On Wednesday the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins announced the newest head coach to takeover behind the bench. ECHL coach Dan Watson has been made the 12th head coach of the Griffins’ hockey club. Watson joins Grand Rapids after spending six seasons at the helm of the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, the Griffins’ ECHL affiliate team. Grand Rapids recently parted ways with coach Ben Simon at the closure of the 2022-2023 season after five seasons.
Watson brings, quite literally, an All-Star resume to Grand Rapids. He took over the head coaching position in Toledo to start the 2016-2017 season, after joining the team as an assistant coach in 2009. In his first season leading the Walleye, Watson led the team to a Central Division title while winning a franchise record 51 games. That first season would end with a round three postseason exit, but it would set the tone for his tenure as Toledo’s head coach. Under his direction the Walleye would have three 100 point seasons, three division titles, four Western Conference Finals appearances and two Kelly Cup Finals berths. Not once did Toledo miss the playoffs in Dan Watson’s six seasons. During the COVID season shutdown, he served as the team’s Director of Hockey Operations.
With a 272-112-22-13 record Watson posses a .691 win percentage in the regular season. That number is bolstered by a 51-34 record in playoff competition, a .600 win percentage. As the Walleye’s Head Coach Watson became the fastest coach in the ECHL to reach 100 wins, becoming the winningest coach in the team’s 14 year history as well. His first year success led to him earning the honors for the ECHL’s John Brophy award, an annual award honoring the league’s Coach of the Year. Additionally, he was selected to coach in both the 2017 and 2022 All-Star games.
The Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, seems like a natural progression for the coach. Watson has already coached 56 future or current Grand Rapids players, including 2023’s ECHL Goaltender of the Year John Lethemon. Before taking over the lead spot behind the Walleye bench, Watson served as an associate coach for the team alongside Derek Lalonde, the now coach of the Detroit Red Wings. Lalonde spoke out about Watson’s hiring saying: “I had the pleasure of working with Dan for two seasons in Toledo. He’s an incredibly hard worker who gets results. His personality and ability to connect with his players helps build a tremendous team culture. I’m really looking forward to working closely with him again.”
The Griffins will start the 2023-2024 season with their new coach on Friday, October 13th.