Walleye head coach Dan Watson took over the team on Feb. 25 from longtime coach Nick Vitucci and is 2-3-0 with the last two games at home coming with victories over Cincinnati.
To say Walleye head coach Dan Watson is a student of the game would be a huge understatement.
For example, there have been more than 6,000 goals scored in the NHL this year and Watson has seen nearly everyone of them. Part of Watson's daily morning preparation includes watching video of every goal scored in the NHL the previous night.
“You have to learn from the best players and the best systems,” Watson said. “It takes about a half hour. I try to copy all those things down. I'll show the guys NHL clips. I like to show them how the best players in the world show their work ethic, or stick placement or body position.”
Watson, who took over as the Walleye's interim coach on Feb. 25, earned his first two wins as a head coach last weekend. Watson brought with him a passion about the intricacies of the game from his four-plus seasons as an assistant under Nick Vitucci.
“I love the Xs and Os,” Watson said. “You can learn something new every day watching video. I'm a firm believer in stats.”
Watson, 34, has landed his dream job — albeit not in the way he thought he would. He was named Toledo's interim coach after his longtime friend Vitucci resigned after the team's season-long struggles.
“I think I bring a youthful energy,” Watson said. “There's a new energy. Once I get in the locker room, I feel like I'm a player.”
The Walleye (18-34-4) snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win over Cincinnati Friday.
“That was exciting, especially with it being in overtime,” Watson said. “I saw the play develop. It was so great. I high fived the guys on the bench. It was a big relief, too.”
Watson, a former defenseman, played his final season under Vitucci with the Toledo Storm. He was forced to retire early after enduring three shoulders surgeries.
“Dan has a great hockey mind,” Vitucci said. “He does more work in his role than any other assistant in the league. He studies our team, he studies the game, and the NHL. This is a great opportunity for him to step in and be the guy.”
Watson played seven professional seasons in the AHL, UHL, and ECHL.
He won his second game as a head coach when Toledo completed a two-game sweep of the Cyclones with a 5-4 victory in a shootout on Saturday. The Walleye play at Wheeling today before a three-game homestand begins on Friday.
After the game against Kalamazoo on Friday, Watson will watch more video and sleep on a couch in his office at the Huntington Center. It's a routine Watson has followed during homestands since he was picked by Vitucci to handle Toledo's defensemen.
During the week, Watson makes a daily 100-mile commute to his home in North Ridgeville, Ohio. Watson's wife Kim was born and raised in the northeast Ohio community and has a successful job there as a manager for a pharmaceutical company.
“My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and I'm out the door at 5:30,” Watson said. “I take Route 2. The Turnpike would cost too much in tolls. I stop at Tim Horton's in Oregon everyday for coffee. I get in before 7:30 and that's when I like to get video done.”
Watson sets plans for the morning practice with skill drills. The players arrive around 8:30 and they will go over video.
“We'll show them teaching clips and show what we've done well and what we didn't,” Watson said. “We'll show them video of the teams we are going to play as well.”
A pre-practice meeting takes place before the morning skate, which include system work.
Watson said most days he makes it home in time to cook for his wife and daughter Kenzi, 6. The Watson family will grow to include a newborn next Wednesday.
“It's been crazy with the new job and the new baby,” Watson said.
His wife is scheduled to have a C-section and they don't know the sex of the baby yet.
“There's a lot of anticipation. It's been hard not knowing,” he said.
Watson will have to miss his first game as a coach when Toledo hosts Wheeling on the same night.
Watson is sure to have a plan in place for his yet-to-be-named, temporary replacement.
Watson was in charge of the defensemen and penalty kill units as an assistant since the organization's inaugural season in 2009-10. Now he's in charge of everything.
He said the biggest adjustment has been being constantly engaged behind the bench.
“Juggling the forwards is one of the biggest hurdles,” Watson said. “With one coach behind the bench, you have to stay intense. Your voice gets tired at the end of the night.”
Watson said Toledo's dual NHL affiliations that the Walleye have with Detroit and Chicago continues to be a challenge with roster turnover.
“There are guys in an out and it's tough for them to get used to different habits,” Watson said.
He also has signed rookies who just recently completed their college careers.
“They're all used to different systems,” he said. “The lines may look out of sync at times. So you try to streamline the system.”
Watson embraces the challenge because he said his goal was always to become a head coach. He hopes to make the most the 21-game “audition” he has been given.
“The way I teach is a little different,” Watson said. “I'm still athletic enough that I can jump into drills and show the players how I want things done. I feel like I'm going to play in the game. And I want to win.
“This is a big audition for me. I'm putting all I can into it. I want to show everyone I'm worthy of getting it.”