Former Av Lacroix works 2-Dog night
Part-owner is also on Arizona bench serving as a coach
By Adam Dunivan
You’re never going to see Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen put on shoulder pads and lead defensive drills in practice.
Nor will you find Dick or Charlie Monfort throwing batting practice for the Colorado Rockies.
That’s why Arizona Sundogs part-owner Eric Lacroix finds himself in one of the most precarious positions in sports: he helps coach the team he owns.
Of course, even from the outset of Lacroix’s interest in developing a hockey franchise — the genes may come from father Pierre, the former general manager of the Colorado Avalanche — it wasn’t going to be any other way.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I like sticks and pucks, and I’m not a suit kind of guy,” said the 36-year-old Lacroix, who Colorado fans would know best as an Avalanche player from 1996-98. “I grew up playing hockey, and I love it. I think in life you do what you’re passionate about.
“It was always the plan for me to go help out (head coach Marco Pietroniro), and after everything was settled down with the franchise, I thought it was time to go back and have fun on the ice.”
All over the Central Hockey League, coaches also direct hockey operations. The influence of being on the bench helps make decisions sometimes difficult.
The same can be said for Lacroix, even though he is one step up on that executive ladder.
“It’s somemthing Eric needs to do, because he’s that passionate about the game,” Pietroniro said. “He’s in a very difficult position; you’ve got your franchise going and you’ve got the emotions of the game still in your heart. It’s a task that I’m sure is not easy to do.”
Lacroix works closely with Pietroniro day in and day out, at practice and beyond, to make sure the product on the ice is what is desired.
The question begs to be asked, how does an owner/assistant coach and a general manager/head coach keep from a power struggle?
“There’s no power struggle,” Lacroix said. “Anyone who works in the organization knows we’re a team. At the end of the day, we know what our strengths and our weaknesses are, and we use that. There’s been no problems there.”
It’s also a bit easier when you’re long-time friends.
The two coaches grew up together and often hung out together in the summertime, Pietroniro said.
Even when Lacroix’s career blossomed — he played 472 career games in the NHL, including two full years with the Avs — he never strayed from keeping in contact with Pietroniro.
The two were reunited in Denver four years ago, and Pietroniro was one of the first people Lacroix contacted after he and fellow friend Shawn Fowler up and bought the Sundogs expansion team in 2005.
“His project hadn’t started yet, and I was due for a change,” said Pietroniro, who was in Idaho at the time. “He told me he had something he’d like to do in the future, and he brought me in.”
Since then, the Sundogs have been one of the premier franchises in the league, providing the fans with back-to-back winning seasons and long playoff runs.
While Lacroix is operating for the enemy as Colorado battles Arizona in the President’s Cup Finals, he was also thankful to the Eagles organization for helping get the Sundogs franchise going early on.
As the Avalanche and the rest of the NHL were on strike during the 2004-05 season, Lacroix made frequent trips to the Budweiser Events Center, following the acquisition of goalie prospect Tyler Weiman.
That’s where Lacroix’s interest in the CHL really sparked.
“A bunch of us started to go up there pretty often, and we were really suprised at how things caught on up there,” Lacroix said. “The Eagles put us in contact with the league, and we bought the rights to the next available franchise.
“From the standpoint of questions that we had, the Eagles were great in helping us get started.”
Of course, he’s had his father to turn to as well.
“There’s a lot of things where you say, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to go about that, that and that’, and ‘there’s this, this and this’” Lacroix said. “He’s been here a lot of weekends, that’s for sure.”
Lacroix’s ties to Colorado go way deeper than business alone. His wife, Jill, graduated from Thompson Valley High School, and his in-laws still reside in Loveland.
“(Colorado) is always going to have a special place in my heart,” Lacroix said. “My whole family lives in Loveland ... I think they’re Sundogs fans right now, though.”