When Team USA hits the ice in December for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, it will be led by first-time U.S. National Junior Team head coach Mike Hastings. But there will be plenty of World Juniors experience on the bench with assistant coach David Lassonde. The Rochester, New Hampshire, native was an assistant on the 2013 and 2014 U.S. National Junior Teams.
Aside from his work with Team USA, Lassonde spends the majority of his time as an assistant coach with the Dartmouth men’s hockey team. He works mainly with the Big Green forwards, power play units and goaltenders. His work helped Dartmouth make it to the ECAC quarterfinals during the 2017-18 season.
USA Hockey recently sat down with Lassonde to discuss a variety of coaching topics.
USA Hockey: What are some of the unique challenges that come with coaching at an event like the World Juniors?
David Lassonde: Any time you’re at a short-term event, it’s really hard to prepare for the unexpected – injuries, maybe players you thought were going to be available that aren’t available. The other challenge is that we don’t have a chance to actively evaluate our candidates for our team. So, it’s hard sometimes. It’s unlike college where you can watch kids a number of times in person to decide who you want to take into your program. We end up relying on other people to do that.
USA Hockey: How do you develop team chemistry within a group that isn’t together for an entire season?
Lassonde: I think there’s a couple different angles you can take. One is the importance of playing for the crest, and the opportunity to play for your country in one of the most popular international hockey events. The other one is that you have to be creative in finding ways to come together as one, and having the guys swallow their egos a little bit and hope it will result in high output and have them understand they might have to sacrifice some of things they do on their college team. When you look at the last couple years, Bob (Motzko) and his group were very successful at doing that.
USA Hockey: What’s one way youth coaches can create more offense with players?
Lassonde: I would say putting them in small games where they see what their options are in those situations and encourage them to understand they don’t have a lot of time and recognize where that opportunity is. The other thing that helps is putting them in situations in practice where they become comfortable being uncomfortable. Then when they face it in a game, they’ve been through it before and have success.
USA Hockey: How do you spark creativity in young players?
Lassonde: One of the things you need to do with younger players is let them have fun. It’s OK to fail because it’s usually through failure that you grow. These days, kids look at it the exact opposite way. It’s important for us as coaches to reward success, but it doesn’t hurt for them to fail.
USA Hockey: What’s one way coaches can be better at coaching their goaltenders?
Lassonde: The biggest way is to learn the position. Not necessarily to the same extent that goalie coaches learn it, but there are certain basics regardless of what their playing background is. There’s a certain way goalies need to be used in practice. Oftentimes, coaches don’t give goalies opportunities. You have to be creative in your lesson plans. If for some reason, the third goalie isn’t being used, encourage them to take responsibility to work on their development.
USA Hockey: How can coaches improve culture within their teams?
Lassonde: One of the biggest ways is that you create an understanding that you’re important, whether you’re the fastest, leading goal-scorer or not the fastest skater. We create a culture that they bring value to the group. Once you can do that and see that success, it helps bring your team together and creates a culture of inclusion rather than exclusion.
USA Hockey: What is one thing college coaches are looking for specifically in players they’re recruiting?
Lassonde: How does someone play away from the puck offensively and defensively? How do kids react to adversity? How’s their body language? How do they react when a teammate doesn’t make a play? Those are all things that are really important, whether you’re identifying the right kids or the best kids. You couple that with the compete level, ability to play with pace, hockey IQ and the skillset.
USA Hockey: What is one way youth and high school coaches can help players in the recruiting process?
Lassonde: As coaches, it’s important for us to verbalize realistic aspirations for our kids. We might have a kid that doesn’t have the skillset to play at the NCAA D-I level and he’s really gung-ho. We don’t want to crush his dreams. We want to educate those players that there are opportunities that fit them better. I think the other thing is, as coaches, we have to be honest to the people who are asking questions about the players and not try to paint a picture that doesn’t exist. At the end of the day, it hurts our credibility and sets a kid up for failure.