One reason why the Detroit Red Wings feel good about hiring Dan Watson as coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins is that it’s impossible to draw a line of distinction between who is as a coach or a person.
If you listen to those who know him, one reason why he won 69.1% of his games for the Toledo Walleye is that he connects with players on a personal level.
“One thing with Dan (is) just the type of person he is,” Red Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff said. “You talk to the players and people who work for him, he’s just an outstanding human being. Players want to go through the wall for him. That’s something that I think is very important — something we hold high in terms of things that we look for in a head coach.”
Dan Watson was there when the @ToledoWalleye started.
14 years later—with 272 reg. season wins, 51 playoff wins and 2 trips to the Kelly Cup Finals—Watson moves on to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
From the front office to the ice, the overwhelming feeling in Toledo is gratitude. pic.twitter.com/xQQhesuJYu
— Joel Sebastianelli (@JJSebastianelli) June 15, 2023
Watson won three division titles, reached the Kelly Cup Finals twice and never missed the playoffs in his six seasons as the Toledo Walleye coach. He reached 100 career wins faster than any coach in ECHL history.
Transporting Winning Culture
“I think the culture inside that lockerroom in Toledo is something we are going to try to bring to Grand Rapids,” Watson said.
He’s coming to a Griffins team that has a strong history, but no playoff appearances over the past two seasons. The Red Wings need the Griffins to regain their winning ways because over the next few seasons several top prospects will be coming through there.
For example, next season, Sebastian Cossa will be there, along with William Wallinder, maybe Carter Mazur and even Marco Kasper.
“I am players coach I want to build relationships with all of these guys,” Watson said. “I want them to know that I care about them personally, it’s not just their hockey career, it’s about them as individuals, as people, whether it is their family, themselves. That’s what I care about. As long as you do this, that’s when you bring out the best in everybody.”
Watson was an assistant coach in Toledo when Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde was there. Watson had plenty of fans within in the Detroit organization. He seemed like the Grand Rapids favorite as soon as it was announced that Ben Simon’s contract with the Griffins was not being renewed.
“The winning culture that we want to get back to here,” said Horcoff who also serves the Griffins’ GM. “It’s important because Grand Rapids has always been a team and organization that has always challenged for championships and that’s something we look forward to getting back to.”
Cossa Blossomed Under Watson
Coaching in the ECHL is challenging because rosters constantly are in a state of flux. If you can coach with consistency there, you can do it anywhere. The Red Wings also appreciated the fact that Cossa made significant strides under Watson’s command. During the ECHL playoffs, Watson had a few Detroit prospects.
“On top of it is his track record of winning,” Horcoff said. “He’s done an outstanding job with the organization, it’s not an easy place, there’s lots of turnover, players coming in and out, but the one thing that has been consistent is his ability to develop players quickly, make them feel comfortable and put a good winning product on the ice.”
Watson said his first order of business is to hire assistant coaches. He said his goal is to develop the culture in the dressing room that “bleed out on the ice.”
“The expectation inside the locker room is be yourself, and be yourself well,” Watson said. “That’s what we are looking for and I can’t wait to get started.”