Hockey adds Lehtinen to coaching staff

Ray Bressette

Former Wildcat brings player-experience coaching to team environment

The hockey team appointed former player Rob Lehtinen to assistant coach Wednesday, July 9.

NW File Photo
NW File Photo

Lehtinen will replace Joe Shawhan, who served as the team’s assistant coach from 2008-14 before leaving NMU for the Michigan Tech coaching staff in July.

Head coach Walt Kyle said he’s excited about the change to the coaching staff.

“Joe Shawhan did a good job for us here, but got an opportunity to move along and decided to take that opportunity,” Walt said. “We’ve had Rob here with our hockey operations for several years now, and he’s a great guy who played for us.” very familiar with the program.
He understands the culture we want, he knows what things we think are important and it was a real natural move.”

Lehtinen was a defenseman for NMU from 2003-07, where he scored 17 goals with 38 assists in 156 games for the Wildcats.

.Lehtinen said he looks forward to the opportunity NMU has given him.

“I was pretty excited when I first heard the news,” Lehtinen said. “The opportunity came and presented itself in perfect timing as I had just come back to finish my schooling a few years prior. I’m very excited for this opportunity, and I’m going to do my best to help out this team.”

Lehtinen served the role of NMU’s hockey manager of operations since 2010.

Lehtinen said he hopes his experiences from his days as a Wildcat can help the team improve in key areas of their game.

“When I was a player here, I emphasized on my physical side of the game, and I’d like to think that my defensive traits can help this team out,” Lehtinen said. “I’ve both played forward and defense, and playing both throughout my college and pro days has given me the chance to coach either side of the game.

“I also concentrated a lot on the penalty killing aspect of the game, which is going to be my development for the players we have on this team.”

Since Lehtinen’s departure from NMU, the Wildcats have gone through a number of changes throughout the hockey program, including the switch from the CCHA conference to the WCHA last season.

Lehtinen said the physicality of college hockey has changed since his playing days.

“The game is different now in terms of how they’re calling the game,” Lehtinen said. “When I played, your third and fourth lines were always your physical checking lines. They would literally go out and make those big hits, but those kind of plays aren’t allowed in college hockey anymore.

“I think the game is faster and more high tempo, and it’s still a lot of fun to watch.”

After his collegiate career, Lehtinen played one year with the Johnstown Chiefs in the East Coast Hockey League in 2006, along with playing three years for the Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League from 2007-10.

Lehtinen won the 2008 CHL Ray Miron President’s Cup Championship with the Sundogs.

Senior defenseman Jake Baker said the team’s familiarity with Lehtinen will make the move easier.

“It’s always nice to have someone around who’s recently been in the same situation that we’re in,” Baker said. “None of us really saw the move coming, but he’s been around a while and has been helping out the team for a while. “He’s always had a coaching background to him, so it should really be a great transition.”

Last season, the Wildcats finished in seventh place of the WCHA with a conference record of 13-14-1, and 15-21-2 overall. The ’Cats were bounced out the first round of the WCHA playoffs, losing two games to none to the Minnesota State Mavericks.

Kyle said the team can benefit from having a younger voice on the coaching staff this year.

“Rob’s younger and closer to our player’s age, and it’s always healthy to have someone like that on your staff,” Kyle said. “The guys are familiar with him because he’s been here a while now, and I think they understand him and have great respect for him.

“We’re looking to him to be very active with recruiting, and he’ll spend a lot of time traveling and watching players.
In the offseason, we want him to help us push to embrace new technology that can help us in the future as well. We really feel that this will be a smooth transition.”

Lehtinen, a Marquette native, said he’s excited to continue his hockey career where it began for him.

“Marquette’s always been my home,” Lehtinen said. “With the exception of my days moving up through the professional levels, I’ve played hockey here my whole life.

“ I’ve truly been blessed to be able to come back now and my coaching career here.”