Former Tampa Bay Lightning assistant Wes Walz praises coach Rick Tocchet
Wes Walz, who was fired by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday after deciding not to take the vacant head coaching job of AHL Norfolk, had warm words for his former Lightning staff mates, especially Lightning coach Rick Tocchet. Walz was offered the Admirals job after Norfolk coach Jim Johnson was elevated to Tampa Bay assistant, pushing Walz out.
"The staff I worked with was incredible," Walz said of Tocchet, associate coach Rick Wilson, assistant coach Adam Oates and goaltenders coach Cap Raeder. "The rapport Tocc and I had together was terrific."
But Walz went farther about Tocchet, saying, "I played over 1,000 games all over the world, and this guy is a hell of a coach. I've never seen a guy spend more time on the ice trying to make guys better, be better scorers, , showing body position, trying to make players better. I wish the best for him."
Walz, 39, who was in the second year of a three-year contract, said it was a big decision for him to uproot his family from Minnesota, where he played for seven seasons with the Wild, to come to Tampa Bay as a coach. He said the thought of uprooting them again to move to Norfolk, and then not knowing what the future would bring, was too much to ask of is family, so he declined becoming Norfolk's new head coach.
"I don't have an answer to why things have changed," Walz said of his situation. "I've enjoyed the opportunity to work with Rick Tocchet, Cap, Adam and Rick Wilson. It's been an interesting experience, one I will never forget."
Walz said he got the news from GM Brian Lawton at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Walz said he "wasn't given an exact reason" for the chance. "All I knew was when I left the meeting I had to make a decision whether to take the position of head coach of the Norfolk Admirals. I wasn't given much of a choice. Things happened quick."
Lawton said Walz, who helped run the defense and penalty kill with Wilson, had "made progress" as a coach. In a release he said of Walz, "We'd like to thank Wes for his dedication to the Lightning organization. "We wish him the best of luck moving forward in his future endeavors and are extremely thankful for his time with the club."
So was center Steven Stamkos, who worked extensively with Walz last season during Stamkos' program to make him a smarter and stronger player.
"He has a great passion and great knowledge for the game," Stamkos said. "Obviously, you wish him well. He worked a lot with me and I thank him for that."
Walz said he wants to coach again, "But the situation has to make sense. ... We'll see where life takes us."
Other notes: Center Zenon Konopka said he has a "stiff back" from a training injury sustained when he was back home during the Olympic break. He is unsure if he will play Tuesday against the Flyers. ... Goalie Jaroslav Janus was called up from Norfolk. He will return when Antero Niittymaki (Finland) returns from the Olympics. ... Goalie Matt Lundin, brother of Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin, was signed by Norfolk to a tryout contract. He likely will return to IHL Muskegeon when Janus returns to Norfolk.