MUSKEGON, MI- The Muskegon Lumberjacks have announced the hire of assistant coach Josh Nelson ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Nelson, 28, started last year as an assistant coach for Wichita Falls in the North American Hockey League, but was promoted to head coach in November. After being named the head coach, Nelson guided the Wildcats to a playoff berth. He was also the team’s assistant in 2015-16 under John LaFontaine.
Prior to coaching at the NAHL level, Nelson coached at prestigious prep school Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, his home state.
Nelson, a defenseman, played four years for Minnesota State before injuries sustained in his senior season derailed his career. In 105 career games, Nelson scored 27 points while amassing only 42 PIM. Because of his background on the blue line, Nelson will work primarily with the defensemen.
“What I think the game is changing into nowadays is less clutching and grabbing, penalties are a little bit higher,” said Nelson. “You can’t be as physical, especially with your stick. In order to be a good defenseman, you have to be a good skater. I like to see my players get up and down the ice, contribute offensively and defensively, and constantly put the pressure on. Overall, I like to play an aggressive style.”
After coaching under John LaFontaine in Wichita Falls and at Shattuck, Nelson feels that the two of them have a great bond and credits LaFontaine for his coaching success.
“John has been an absolute blessing,” said Nelson. “I played with his son, Jean-Paul, in Mankato, so I’ve gotten to know the LaFontaine family for three years, and John is one of the biggest reasons I got into coaching. It’s life lessons with John, it isn’t always hockey, and I’m grateful to be alongside him.”
“His biggest asset is his passion,” said LaFontaine. “He brings a great passion for the game and for teaching, and he has the patience it takes to teach these young players.”
Nelson, who was born in Minnesota, but grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, knows from experience that he and LaFontaine are similar, and will bring like attitudes to the Muskegon bench.
“We’re more similar [than we are different],” said Nelson. “He’s contagious, he’s very contagious. The positive energy, the passion, the enthusiasm he has for getting up every day and wanting to make people around him better, he’s a very selfless man that can’t help but rub off on you.”
While Nelson and LaFontaine are similar, they still have their differences, and fans at LC Walker Arena may not see as much animation from Nelson as they will with LaFontaine.
“I’ll be very positive on the bench,” said Nelson. “I think these kids, especially at this level, beat themselves up pretty good. They know when they make mistakes, so I like to really build kids up and give them confidence. Hopefully I can be a very high-energy, enthusiastic influence on the bench and hopefully keep the kids confident and level.”
“Thanks to everyone from coach LaFontaine to [GM John Vanbiesbrouck] and meeting Dan Israel, the owner, was phenomenal. I’m excited for the ride here to get going.”