Coach of the Year honours in the Ontario Hockey League awarded to Oshawa Generals bench boss

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Published April 22, 2024 at 10:25 am

Oshawa Generals coach Derek Laxdal

With the new year fast approaching in the Ontario Hockey League the Oshawa Generals were on the outside of the playoff picture and there were whispers that perhaps head coach Derek Laxdal’s job was in jeopardy.

Fast forward three months or so and Laxdal’s Generals were on a 12-game win streak to close out the regular season and take top spot in the Eastern Conference, with the club now one round away from playing for a berth on the Memorial Cup.

As for Laxdal, his efforts in guiding the team to second-half success have not gone unnoticed, with the league awarding him the Matt Leyden Trophy as the OHL Coach of the Year.

“To be recognized by your peers is very rewarding not only for me but for the entire organization,” said Laxdal of the honour. “This is truly a reflection of the work of the coaching staff, Steve O’Rourke, Mike Farrugia, Austin Washkurak and the players.”

Laxdal is in his second season with the Generals and led the team to a 40-19-9 record this year. He thanked team owner Rocco Tullio for the opportunity to coach the five-time Memorial Cup champions and General Manager Roger Hunt for the “countless hours” spent assembling the squad.

“The players have grown from day one last year, buying into the culture and playing for each other, day in and day out. It has been very rewarding watching these young men continue to develop on and off the ice daily,” Laxdal said, while also remembering to thank his wife Hali and daughters Jessica and Jaime for their “incredible support.”

Oshawa surrendered an Eastern Conference-low 204 goals-against, backstopped by the goaltending tandem of Jacob Oster and Noah Bender and blueline studs such as Dallas Stars prospect Connor Punnett, veteran Luca D’Amato and draft eligibles Luca Marrelli and Ben Danford.

The club has also seen the rapid development this year of 6-foot-7 New York Rangers prospect Dylan Roobroeck under Laxdal’s guidance as he joins other prominent forwards in Colorado Avalanche first round pick Calum Ritchie, overage captain Stuart Rolofs and former OHL champion Connor Lockhart in leading the Oshawa attack.

“We are extremely happy for Derek and the entire coaching staff,” said Tullio. “They work extremely hard and put in long days so our players can have success both on and off the ice. The development of our players and the success of our team is a direct result of the passion Derek and our coaching staff have for the game of hockey. There is no one more deserving of this award and we could not be more proud and happy for Derek and our team for this prestigious award.”

Originally from Stonewall, Manitoba, Laxdal boasts a lengthy coaching resume that includes a pair of WHL championships with the Edmonton Oil Kings, capped by a Memorial Cup in 2014. He’s also served as an assistant coach of the NHL’s Dallas Stars from 2019-22 along with head coaching assignments with the AHL’s Texas Stars (2014-20), ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads (2005-10) – where he won a Kelly Cup title in 2007 – as well as with the CHL’s Wichita Thunder (2002-05).

On the ice, Laxdal played 67 career NHL games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders between 1984-91 as part of a lengthy professional career. A right-winger, his junior career was spent with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, Brandon Wheat Kings and New Westminster Bruins and he represented Canada’s National Junior Team in 1986.

The Matt Leyden Trophy has been awarded annually to the OHL’s Coach of the Year since 1972. The award is in recognition of the contributions of Matt Leyden, past president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1965-67, and former manager of the Oshawa Generals who spent more than 50 years with the organization.

Laxdal is the fifth Generals coach to win the award and the first since DJ Smith, who was honoured in 2014 and led the team to the Memorial Cup the following season.

Other Oshawa coaches named Coach of the Year include Paul Theriault (1986-87), Bill White (1977-78) and inaugural winner Gus Bodnar (1971-72).

Laxdal will be the OHL’s nominee for the Brian Kilrea Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year Award, which will be presented at the 2024 Memorial Cup in Saginaw, Michigan from May 24 to June 2. Laxdal will be formally presented with the Matt Leyden Trophy at the OHL’s Awards Ceremony June 12 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

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