When Niklas Sundblad was searching for the final addition to Cologne’s blue line he knew precisely what kind of player he wanted. Shawn Lalonde fit the bill to the T. In this interview the 25-year old Canadian looks back at decisions regarding his career, talks about if he cut most of the rough stuff out of his game, and gives his perspective on what the Cologne Sharks need to do to get back on track.
Shawn, has your return to the DEL been what you expected it to be so far?
Yeah. I mean, the league overall has gotten stronger than what I remembered. The bottom teams aren’t bottom teams anymore. They are competing every night and winning. So, I think it’s gotten better.
So what was your SHL-experience like?
Well, there they have smaller guys that wheel around and have lots of energy. Here it’s more like a North-American style of game. Guys are stronger. For me, I was put in a role and then taken out of that role, so I didn’t have the greatest season.
Could you elaborate on that?
I was brought in for an offensive guy. And then we weren’t doing well. They panicked and signed another guy for a lot of money, so they had to play him. And I got stuck behind him. I was disappointed. That was a frustrating season for me, for sure.
In January rumour had it that you would be willing to return to Germany, because you weren’t particularly happy in Sweden. It seemed Berlin would have been the obvious choice, if that happened. What was the selling point to sign with Cologne?
My old representation group didn’t do a very good job when I left Berlin. I think I kind of burned that bridge there, so I didn’t have the choice to go back. My new representation group knew Sunny [Niklas Sundblad]. They are Swedish. It was a good fit. Now I’m happy to be here.
At the end of last season I did an interview with Niklas Sundblad about the roster for this year. He described the defenseman he was looking for as being young, fast, physical, right-handed shot – you fit the bill to the T. Did you know what kind of situation you would come into here and the role you’d be expected to play?
I remember seeing that article. And at that time was when we just started talking about potentially coming here. After reading that article I kind of figured it’d be a great fit. I wanted to get the opportunity. For sure it was a good decision on my part. I’m happy he wanted a player like me.
Did you know you’d be on the first D-pairing or did you expect to be there?
No, I did not expect anything. We’ve got four really good Ds here that could be first pairs on any other team. We are lucky to have that. Right now we’ve just got to step it up and be a little better and held more accountable.
Did you take anything from playing in a rather defensive league like the SHL?
I don’t know if I took a step forward. But being more defensive you’ve got to be more reliable. Guys are quicker in the corners. I can make plays pretty quick, so it was a learning year for sure.
Outside the fact that it was a bad experience overall, would you say it was at least worth something in regards to developing your own game?
I kind of regret changing what I had in Berlin. I mean, that was a great spot to play. The representation group I had at the time was pushing for Sweden, because [they thought it would be a] better opportunity to go to the bigger leagues and make more money. That kind of backfired.
Speaking of bigger leagues: I watched the one NHL-game you played in – Chicago Blackhawks @ St. Louis Blues, April 2013. I was curious to see you perform at that level. What do you recall from that game?
(laughs) I didn’t know if I’d be playing or not. Then I ended up playing forward to start the game, then I played defense because we had an injury. I will definitely never forget that moment and that experience.
It was the Hawks’ last regular season game. They had eight rookies in the line-up – including you.
Yeah, St. Louis is a tough team. They always outhit the Hawks, outbattled them, outmuscled them. So they rested their big guys and threw in all the Minor guys that wanted to prove themselves. I think we ended up losing the game but we outmuscled them. It just didn’t show on the scoresheet.
At that point you’ve been with the Hawks’ organization for three years. They had a plethora of prospects on defense back then. What was it like knowing the chances were slim to make the big team?
Competition is always good, but it’s just tough and frustrating waiting for the opportunity to prove yourself. None of us actually got it. Some guys got traded, some guys are playing over in Europe like me trying to get better and trying to improve. But it was definitely frustrating not getting that opportunity.
But even just being with an organization like the Hawks that created a winning environment, does that rub off on the guys in the system?
Yeah, for sure. It’s a great organization. They treat their players very well. Winning is always fun. The atmosphere was great around the team and the city. They just had that confidence that they know they could win. And that’s what they’ve been doing. Now the team has changed a little bit, so it might be a little harder, but they still got those core guys around.
It’s easy to forget that you’re only 25 years old because of how you carry yourself on the ice.
Moving away from home at a young age and maturing, having to do things for yourself, because if you don’t do them nobody else is going to do it – you gotta learn that quickly. The quicker you learn it the better off you’ll be.
General consensus is that D-men reach their prime in their later twenties. At what stage of your career do you see yourself right now?
For prime, I think I’m just starting to step into it. Hopefully in the next couple of years I can be in it – wherever I am. I mean, it would be nice to be in the NHL, but there is still lots of work to be done before that ever happens. If I’m in Germany at the time, that’s fine, too. I’m just trying to be the best player that I can be wherever I end up.
Do you consider the DEL as being good enough in terms of improving your game to a level that would give you a chance make it to the NHL?
Yeah, I think so. This league is getting more respected every year. Look at Martinsen from Düsseldorf – he’s playing in the NHL now. David Wolf did it last year, too. There is still some chance for sure for some guys. You just gotta keep working and take care of the things you can control.
You don’t mind fighting but during your time with Eisbären Berlin you said, you need to tone it down a bit here in Europe. Is that something you’ve been working on?
I think I benefit my team better when I’m on the ice instead of being suspended or sitting in the box for 14 minutes. I’m playing over 23 minutes a game. For a defenseman that’s pretty good. That’s what I want. That’s what I need to improve. I think I’m more useful on the ice than in the box. But if anything ever happens – there is still a long season – you never know what can happen. When I first came to Germany I was really stupid. It’s part of the game ensuring you know what league you’re in. Fighting is not really needed as much as in North-America. Especially sitting in the box for 14 minutes isn’t fun. But if anything happens on the ice, if somebody is taken advantage of, I’m more likely to step in. But everything has been pretty under control so far this season.
There is other ways to make your presence felt – like throwing hits. But that’s a fine line in this league as well.
Yeah, for sure. I think the first year coming in and doing that might have given me a bit more space and more respect.
I have to go back to the Wolfsburg-game and the hit you threw at Vincenz Mayer. It was early in the game, and it looked like you were trying to spark your team. Was that your intention or did it just happen because the opportunity was there?
No, I mean, I think Sunny wants us to play more physical and win the battles and stuff like that. For me the first shift in every game is big. It pretty much decides what kind of game you’re going to have. I like to get a hit in on the first shift or to get hit to get motivated. I mean, in Wolfsburg I kind of had to do it. If not he could have chipped it by me and went down two on one. I think I hit the guy a little too hard. I thought I could have hit him harder. There is a fine line with the reffing here, too. You’ve got to be smart. You’ve got guys that aren’t as strong, I guess, or aren’t expecting to get hit, which brings them into a more vulnerable position. So you’ve got to be smart on when to hit and when not to hit. It’s just part of my game. It’s just another attribute that I can give to my team.
You have a team-leading 67 shots on goal. There’s only two other teams where a defenseman has the most shots on goal – Micky DuPont in Berlin and Daryl Boyle in Munich. What does that say about the offensive output of the entire group here?
Maybe we’ll have to shoot the puck a little more. (laughs) As a defenseman you just try to get the puck through. Good things happen when you throw the puck on net. You get rebounds and maybe one will squeak in.
This team turned from winning games after being down a goal on several occasions into a team that blows leads late in a game. What happened in between?
I don’t know if I can answer that question. I think you’d have to ask Sunny that question. For us, we’ve got all the tools, all the systems and all that. I don’t know if we’re not executing it right. I think Sunny could answer that question a lot better than I could.
Patrick Hager told us last week, that he thinks guys are still new to the system, that not everything happens automatically yet and that guys need time to think on the ice. Do you agree?
A little bit. We’ve got to read and react better if a guy needs more time thinking. If he’s doing something different then we’ve got to think different, be on our toes, and react different if that’s what’s going on.
Outlet-passes are an issue. Is it a matter of forwards rushing up ice too fast after you guys regained puck possession in your own end and not offering options to pass to?
We’ve got to be responsible at both bluelines – in our zone and at the offensive zone. When I got thrown out of the Wolfsburg game I got to really watch the game and see what’s going on. I felt like, when you’ve got the puck you don’t have any support. We’ve had guys all over the place. I think we need to give our guys more support. That would make life easier on everyone else.
To sum it up there’s lots of little things that need adjustments. Do you guys feel like you still have enough time left to get those adjustments done in order to secure a playoff spot?
It would have been nice if we had won a couple more games at the start where we had the lead and then lose a game with a face-off against Schwenningen and Augsburg score with 0.7 seconds. Those were a couple of big points that we missed on. Throughout a season there is always highs and lows. Right now we’re in a low. But there is still lots of games left. There’s a lot of points still on the table. The quicker we figure it out, the better off we’ll be. I think we’ve got to play a little simpler. We’re trying to do things a little too cute right now where we should be just keeping things simple, getting pucks deep, forechecking, and doing what we do best. We’ve got a great skating team. I think we’ve got to use it more against slower D, bigger D. Make them turn, and then make them tired, because it sucks when a team just dumps a puck in and you’ve got to go back and get it, and you know you’re going to get hit every time. Then you start taking penalties. That’s kind of what we did in Wolfsburg. Their powerplay went to work. That’s how they buried us.
Friday is going to be a special game for you personally, since this is the first time you’ll return to Berlin. Are you looking forward to it? What do you expect from that game?
It’s definitely going to be strange being on the other side. But I’m going to treat it like just another game. They are really hot right now and doing really well, so it’s going to be another tough match for us. Hopefully we can come out of there with a couple of points.
We would like to thank Shawn Lalonde for the interview.