DAN WATSON NAMED HEAD COACH
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday named Dan Watson head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Watson becomes the 12th head coach in franchise history after serving six seasons as head coach of the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.
Watson will be formally introduced to media and special guests during a Thursday press conference at Van Andel Arena. The press conference will be streamed live at griffinshockey.com and on the Griffins’ Facebook and YouTube pages at 11 a.m.
“I’m thrilled to announce Dan as the head coach of the Griffins,” said Griffins general manager / Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff. “He established a tremendous winning culture during his six years as head coach in Toledo through his work ethic, communication skills, and the relationships he built with his players. Dan’s passion for player development and familiarity with the Red Wings organization will be vital assets, and we’re confident his experience will lead to the continued growth of our players in Grand Rapids.”
The 43-year-old Watson guided Toledo to a 45-19-5-3 (0.681) record last season before going 9-4 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs to reach the Western Conference Finals. He has been with the Red Wings organization for the past 14 seasons, holding multiple roles with the Walleye since the team’s inception. An assistant coach from 2009-14, he then served two seasons (2014-16) as Toledo’s associate head coach alongside head coach Derek Lalonde, who just completed his first season behind the Red Wings’ bench. Watson was named head coach in July 2016 and also served as director of hockey operations during the 2020-21 ECHL campaign in which Toledo did not participate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watson never missed the playoffs as head coach, reaching the Kelly Cup Finals twice (2019 and 2022) and leading Toledo to three division titles (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), three 100-point seasons (2016-17, 2017-18 and 2021-22), two regular season championships (2016-17 and 2021-22), and four Western Conference Finals berths (2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023). In 2016-17, he garnered the John Brophy Award as the ECHL’s Coach of the Year in his first year as head coach, when the Walleye won the Central Division behind a franchise-record 51 wins (51-17-2-2, 0.736) and reached the Western Conference Finals.
As a head coach, the Glencoe, Ontario, native possesses a 272-112-22-13 (0.691) ledger during the regular season and a 51-34 (0.600) mark over only five playoff campaigns (the 2020 postseason was canceled due to COVID-19). Watson coached 56 future or former Griffins and nine All-ECHL Team members since becoming Toledo’s head coach in 2016, including 2023 ECHL Goaltender of the Year John Lethemon. Over his 14-year tenure, Watson helped guide the Walleye to a 523-318-46-36 (0.611) regular season mark and Toledo reached five conference finals and two Kelly Cup Finals, all within the team’s last seven playoff runs.
The fastest coach in ECHL history to reach 100 wins and the winningest head coach in Walleye history, Watson was chosen to coach in the ECHL All-Star Game in both 2017 and 2022.
“I am extremely excited and honored to become the next head coach of the Griffins,” said Watson. “I look forward to getting the privilege of working with each player to make them better while creating a positive work environment. This is a very important time in the Red Wings organization and a big challenge. We will work hard to put a competitive team on the ice that the fans can be proud of.”
An undrafted defenseman out of the Ontario Hockey League, Watson signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000 and began his pro career with the Syracuse Crunch in 2000-01, collecting seven points (3-4—7) in 59 games. Throughout four AHL seasons with Syracuse (2000-03), the Cleveland Barons (2002-04) and Providence Bruins (2003-04), he accumulated 27 points (8-19—27) in 193 appearances.
Watson also saw action in four campaigns at the ECHL level with the Dayton Bombers (2001-02), Long Beach Ice Dogs (2004-06, as captain) and the Toledo Storm (2006-07). Watson, who was named the 2004-05 ECHL Defensive Player of the Year with the Ice Dogs, also competed in the United Hockey League with the Elmira Jackals (2000-01), Columbus Stars (2003-04) and the Kalamazoo Wings (2003-04).
Watson played his junior career with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting from 1996-2000 and amassed 59 points (9-50—59) in 212 contests, appearing in the OHL All-Star Game during the 1998-99 season.
Watson and his wife, Kim, have two daughters, Kenzi and Eilee, and a son, Max.
Photo at top courtesy of Toledo Walleye