DETROIT – Anyone who has ever been coached by the Griffins’ Jeff Blashill tells of a passionate man who has a comforting demeanor with a constructive teaching style.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jeff. He was huge for me, kinda brought me to my next level where I could play in the NHL,” Red Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff said. “So I think if there’s an award like that that will be given out I think his name should be at the top of the list.”
There is such an award; it’s called the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award, which is given presented to the American Hockey League’s most outstanding coach each season.
On Tuesday, the league announced that the trophy belongs to Blashill, who not only has the Griffins in position to defend their Calder Cup championship, but has done so while restocking the Red Wings roster with NHL-ready talent all season long.
The award is voted by fellow AHL coaches and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities.
In two seasons, the 40-year-old Blashill has guided the Griffins to a combined 88-48-2-12 record that includes winning the Calder Cup championship last spring with many of guys who have since ascended to the NHL to help the Red Wings reach the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
“He’s a fabulous coach,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He has allowed these players to look like they certainly are heading in the direction to maximize their potential. That’s all you can do in life, right, maximize someone’s potential?”
Grand Rapids is currently in second place in the Western Conference, only two points from claiming a second straight Midwest Division title.
Despite the turnover in players, which saw only four of their top 12 scorers from a year ago – and just three of their top 10 playoff producers play a majority of this season in Grand Rapids – the Griffins have posted three separate seven-game winning streaks while never losing more than two consecutive games in regulation.
“What made us so good last year in Grand Rapids was he expected the best out of us every day and if you weren’t getting it he was going to let you know,” said Lashoff, one of the Wings to receive a Calder Cup ring. “Similar to Babs in a lot of ways, I think he learned a lot from Babs when he was here, but he has a lot of his own attributes that makes him a very good coach.”
Blashill’s influence has had a huge impact on the Red Wings as well, as he’s prepared nine prospects in the organization for their NHL debuts. All told, 18 members of Blashill’s 2013-14 squad were called up to play a total of 391 NHL games, and 13 players from his Calder Cup championship team logged time in Detroit this season, including Lashoff, Danny DeKeyser, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Luke Glendening.
“From winning last year we do have some of the same confidence and Coach Blashill has done a great job in instilling confidence in us and teaching us the right way to play,” Glendening said. “So when we come here we know how to play and coach (Mike) Babcock has been awesome in putting us in situations to succeed. He’s given us every opportunity.”
After serving as an assistant coach for the Red Wings in 2011-12, Blashill was named the ninth head coach in Griffins’ history.
He is the third Griffins head coach coach of the year, following the selections of Bruce Cassidy (AHL in 2001-02) and Guy Charron (IHL in 1999-2000). Each prior winner moved on to the NHL the season after his honor, with Cassidy taking the reins of the Washington Capitals and Charron joining the Anaheim Ducks as an assistant.
“I think the one thing about Blash – and you’ll hear it from all of the guys who played for him – is that he could easily be a head coach in the NHL,” Lashoff said. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had and he’s very good at developing guys but also being hard on you and getting the most out of you.”
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