Long-time Lithuanian NHL player and now federation president Dainius Zubrus wants to rebuild the team with a new coach after some veteran players ended their careers. “The team will change a lot. It was decided to start a new era for the team and therefore for the position of the head coach to invite another specialist who will bring new ideas to the national team,” Zubrus said. Among the retiring players are three defencemen: Darius Kasparaitis, Mindaugas Kieras and Rolandas Aliukonis.
After talking to several candidates, Lacroix was the board’s unanimous choice. The 49-year-old Montreal native played professional hockey for 12 years. While having most games in the AHL, the winger with many penalty minutes on his account also played 188 NHL regular-season games and during his best days in the late ‘90s was Zubrus’ teammate at the Philadelphia Flyers for two seasons.
After ending his career as a player, he moved into coaching in 2002. For four seasons he was an assistant coach for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, temporarily also the head coach. Between 2006 and 2018 he has worked as an assistant coach in the NHL for the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and the last four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens. He also spent one year with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL.
Lacroix follows after German coach Bernd Haake, who has led the team for the past six years winning four consecutive bronze medals in the Division I Group B followed by the tournament win on home ice in Kaunas last spring with veteran coach George Kingston as assistant.
Lacroix signed a contract for one season and will have his first test when Lithuania will host the Baltic Cup in Vilnius during the November international break. He will be assisted by two former Lithuanian national team players, Sarunas Kuliesius and Arunas Aleinikovas, by Mike McNamara and Ty Newberry.
The U20 national team will be led by Aleksej Nikiforov, who was coaching the U18 national team last year.
The Baltic Cup will this year be played in just one tournament from 8 to 11 November and with six teams. Host Lithuania will play in a group with Belarus and Japan. The other group includes a selection of players from the Latvian league, Estonia and Romania.
Lithuania will play in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in the Kazakh capital of Astana from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Beside Lithuania and host Kazakhstan, Belarus, Korea, Hungary and Slovenia will battle for promotion to the top-level IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship for 2020 in Switzerland.