Ask Daniel Lacroix at what point he knew that he wanted to be a hockey coach and the new Rangers assistant does not hesitate in replying with an answer that is accompanied by a chuckle.
"I certainly knew in my mid 20's that I was going to be more of a coach than a player," says Lacroix, who played in 188 National Hockey League games. "I wasn't a skilled player by any means, but I sat and watched, and I ran a lot of practices during the summer for local pro guys. My outlook on the game was always more as a coach than as a player. So I knew for a while I wanted to coach, though I didn't know at what level."
A second round pick by the Rangers in the 1987 draft, Lacroix spent nine years in the organization, though he did not make his Blueshirts debut until the magical 1993-94 season, and he only played in 30 games as a Ranger before moving on to play in Boston, Philadelphia, Edmonton, and Long Island. A rugged forward, Lacroix totaled 11 goals and 379 career penalty minutes.
After his playing career ended he turned, as planned, to coaching---first in the QMJHL, then in the NHL as an assistant for three years with the Islanders and another three with the Tampa Bay Lightning, with one AHL season in between. Now Daniel Lacroix has come full circle back to the Rangers.
"It feels good to return to the Rangers," Lacroix told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "To be drafted as a young man a long time ago by them, and to wear the uniform with the famed logo, it has always been a special place for me, even when I would return to New York as a visiting player or coach. It's really nice to come back to the Rangers."
Though you won't see his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, Lacroix did play the first four games of his NHL career with the 1993-94 Rangers. That experience, albeit brief, has left an indelible mark on him, and has shaped him as a coach today.
"What rubbed off on me the most was the culture that was in place, the winning ways and winning habits that were in place," explained Lacroix. "It does shape you. I certainly learned a lot from those players---the work ethic of Mike Richter, the leadership of Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe, the enthusiasm of Eddie Olczyk and Nick Kypreos. Those qualities I saw, they stick with a young player, and those were great experiences that I took elsewhere when I became a coach. It became a part of my foundation."
No longer the wide-eyed kid, Lacroix returns to New York in a position to help mold the current Blueshirts. He believes one of his biggest assets to Alain Vigneault's staff will be his familiarity with the Eastern Conference---having coached six of the past seven years in the East while Vigneault and Ulf Samuelsson have been in the Western Conference, or out of the NHL completely as Ulf was coaching in Sweden the past two years.
Lacroix only knew Vigneault on the periphery before interviewing for the Rangers assistant job this summer, but quickly found out that the two French Canadiens favored a similar style of play and had many other shared beliefs.
"Like any team, where you want to come together on the ice, you have to come together as a coaching staff off the ice first," shared Lacroix. "We have spent the time getting to know one another this summer, and I have really enjoyed that. We believe that you build championship teams from the back end, and certainly we have great goaltending here. We also agree that you work as a unit of five (players) at both ends of the ice in front of your goaltender."
Lacroix has more of a shared history with fellow assistant Samuelsson. The two were Rangers teammates in 2005-06, and the rugged and intense Samuelsson left quite the lasting impression on Lacroix.
"Ulfie was just a really good teammate, someone you want on your side when you go to war," Lacroix said of Samuelsson. "The competitiveness he brought to the table was incredible. He was such a good hockey player. And the way he prepared was second to none. I think the way he'll be as a coach will be the same. I'm really excited to be working together."
Lacroix is back home in Quebec now, renovating his house, before heading back to New York in a couple of weeks to prepare for his first training camp as a Rangers coach. He can not wait to get started working with the players, and to walk back into The Garden as a member of the team again.
"The Garden crowd is a great crowd, and it gives the home team quite an advantage," stated Lacroix. "I am happy to be a part of that again."