BISMARCK, ND – When Rodney LaLonde joined the Bismarck Bobcats as a part of a blockbuster trade with the Texas Tornado in early February, his reputation preceded him: 34 games, 74 penalty minutes, nine fights.
“When I came to town I wanted to be ‘that guy,’ the enforcer,” recalled LaLonde. “I’ve never been a goal scorer… a skill guy. I wanted to get out there, mix things up, stick up for my teammates and get the other team off their game.”
The heavyweight fighter did not disappoint in his first weekend: posting a +1 rating, dominating a first-period fight on Saturday against Aberdeen’s Mack Ohnsted and helping the Cats’ depleted defense pull off a weekend sweep against Owatonna and Aberdeen.
But late in the Bobcats’ 6-2 February 5th victory over the visiting Wings, LaLonde became the fifth Bobcats defenseman in three weeks to suffer an injury when an attempted shot-block in the game’s final minute fractured the Michigander’s right hand—his dominant fighting hand.
LaLonde attempted to continue to fight over the next two weeks—with bouts against Central Division heavyweights Nolan Kirley from Austin (a draw) and Matt Youso from Owatonna (a loss)—to disappointing results and further aggravation to his broken hand.
After sitting out two of the next four games following his loss to Youso, the bruising 6’2” 200 pound blueliner elected to stop fighting for the remainder of the regular season in favor of focusing his contributions to a stay-at-home defensive role on the Bobcats’ back end.
“The whole point of fighting is to help your team,” noted LaLonde who, despite getting ready to start his fourth year in the NAHL, is just 19 years old, “but I couldn’t fight with the broken hand, so what help is that?”
The numbers bear out LaLonde’s shift in thinking as his stats swung from a -2 plus/minus with 17 penalty minutes in his first seven games in black and gold to a +2 with six PIM over his final eight regular season contests.
“One of the biggest things, to me, was seeing Rodney’s confidence grow as defenseman,” said Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie. “I don’t think that anyone at the junior level encouraged him as a stay-at-home defender with a strong first pass. We knew he was more than a fighter watching him that first weekend against Owatonna and Aberdeen, but after the injury he started to see that, too.”
Though his stay-at-home style is not one that customarily translates to points, LaLonde was rewarded on the scoresheet for playing through injury and steady defensive contribution in Game Five of the Central Division Finals at Coulee Region. With a tie game in the second period of the winner-take-all final contest of the divisional round, LaLonde noticed a pileup in the crease of Chill goalie Paul Moberg and alertly put the puck on—an eventually into—the net for what would turn out to be the game-winning goal in a 3-1 win.
It was LaLonde’s first goal in three years—comprising 110 NAHL games.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know how to react,” admitted LaLonde, “I saw [fellow defenseman Donald] Olivieri going crazy so I just let all the guys come to me and celebrate. I might have joked with [goalie Ryan] Faragher on my next shift ‘Hey, don’t let any more in; I want to have the game-winner.’
“The really odd part was having the news reporters calling me and wanting an interview after the game; I’m used to doing my job quietly and walking past all the interviews.”
With the summer nearing an end and LaLonde’s hand healed, his plan is to try and strike the right balance between being the tough guy and being a steady, reliable defenseman. That hybrid style was on display in early August at 2011 Main Camp, where LaLonde handily won a pair of fights and added an impressive back-handed assist to Tyler Richter.
The plan seems to fit with the coaching staff’s vision for LaLonde in 2011-12.
“We don’t want to muzzle his style of play or try and make him something he’s not,” added Sedevie. “But we also are looking to Rodney to be a key contributor on defense and a big-time penalty killer. And he already knows that he can’t be helping to kill penalties if he’s the guy sitting in the box.”
LaLonde chimed in, “I’m still all about helping the team, but now I know that fighting isn’t the only way I can help.”
Rodney, who has stayed in town since the end of Main Camp to train at Healthways Gym, and the rest of the 2011-12 Bobcats report for Training Camp on August 28.
The preseason opens September 9th as the Minot Minotauros come to town for the first of two contests before the Cats officially raise the curtain on the 2011-12 campaign at the Combat Sports NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn., against the New Mexico Mustangs on September 14.
Season tickets are now on sale for the 2011-12 season—and going fast! Call the Bobcat Hockey office at (701) 222-3300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on reserving your seats for the upcoming season!
2011 CENTRAL DIVISION CHAMPIONS