DETROIT – There are similarities with the Red Wings new head coach and the man who held the title for the previous 10 seasons.
Jeff Blashill and former Wings coach Mike Babcock share parallel coaching styles, have some comparable mannerisms, and heck, some actually swear that the two sound alike.
However, as it relates to how Blashill will approach the 2015-16 season the 27th head coach in Red Wings history says he’ll be his own man.
“I don’t like to talk about what’s been done in the past,” said Blashill after he was introduced during a Tuesday morning news conference at Joe Louis Arena. “I’ll have my own approach and with my own approach will come change. I’m sure there are lots of similarities. I coach similar in a lot of ways to Babs has coached here and in a lot of the same approaches as to who we play. But I’m my own person and how I deal with players and how I deal with things on a daily basis. I’ll be Jeff Blashill and I think in that there will be change.”
Knowing everyone in the organization as well as he does, having coached most of the prospects as he has, the transition from coaching the franchise’s American Hockey League team in Grand Rapids to becoming the Red Wings’ first American-born coach should be seamless.
But that doesn’t mean Blashill, a first-time NHL head coach, won’t have his work cut out.
“I think any coaching job I’ve gone into you have to earn their respect and they’ll earn my respect as well,” he said. “That’s really the approach I’ve taken for any job. You earn it and you earn it by your example every single day. You have to earn the respect of the players you coach and the people you’re around. The only way to earn respect is through your daily actions.”
Babcock once referred to Blashill as a serial winner. That’s what he’s proven to do on every stop he’s made on the coaching circuit, whether it was with the Indiana Ice (USHL), Western Michigan (NCAA) or Grand Rapids.
“Coaching is coaching, whether you’re coaching young players our veterans,” Blashill said. “These are the experiences that have helped me grow. I think the biggest thing in coaching is figuring out who the best players are on your team. Some guys are real good at it and some aren’t. I think that’s a real important part.
“I spent two years as a head coach in the USHL and there’s unique challenges there and that year in college. All that has helped shape who I am and hopefully I’ve grown through all those experiences and I hope to continue to grow.”
In three seasons with the Griffins, Blashill compiled a 134-71-12-11 regular-season record and won seven of nine AHL playoff series. He is the only coach in Griffins history to qualify for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, leading the team to 92 points or better each season.
Plus, 24 Griffins players over the last three seasons ascended to the NHL where they’ve played for the Red Wings, including Joakim Andersson, Danny DeKeyser, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar. All have moved up to full-time roles in Detroit after winning the 2013 Calder Cup, and Blashill deserves the credit for having them prepared for the next level.
“You talk about structure and accountability, I haven’t been around too many guys who are better at it than Jeff,” hall of famer Chris Chelios said. “One thing he says that hits home is he knows what makes guys tick, he knows how to talk to guys. The fact that he won a Calder Cup with a lot of the guys who are with the Wings is going to help a lot I think with his transition.”
According to Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, the decision to bring Blashill back as head coach – he was an assistant to Babcock in 2011-12 – was part of a year-long contingency plan should Babcock leave the organization.
“We made the decision a year ago – if Mike was going – based upon Blash being here for a year, what he accomplished in Grand Rapids, with what the team accomplished, the way he developed young players,” Holland said. “As we’ve gone along, Mike Babcock and I talked about lots of things, certainly Mike Babcock and I both believe Jeff Blashill is a tremendous young coach, deserving of the opportunity to be the head coach. He really was the only candidate. I didn’t talk to anybody. I made the decision a year ago, when Blash decided he didn’t want to interview for any other jobs, he wanted to continue to grow for a year and spent one more year in the American League and see how things worked out. Blash was the guy.”
The 41-year-old Blashill, who was born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, is thrilled to have received a four-year contract from a team that he grew up cheering for.
“I grew up a Red Wings fan,” Blashill said. “I remember the hardships of getting to that first Cup in a long time in ’97 and then winning the back-to-back Cups. I was a fan at that time. It was a neat thing to be able to ultimately become the head coach of an organization that was a big part in your life growing up.”