NEW YORK – As the Red Wings boarded their team bus Saturday in Ottawa, Jeff Blashill saw the tragic news of the senseless mass shooting that left six people dead and two critically injured in Kalamazoo.
It wasn’t that long ago that Blashill coached college hockey in the West Michigan town, but his immediate thoughts were of one of his assistants.
“Pat Ferschweiler’s family still lives in Kalamazoo, so I let him know as soon as I saw it on the Internet,” said Blashill, who led Western Michigan University to the CCHA championship game in 2010-11. “That incident wasn’t far from Pat’s home. So certainly our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Kalamazoo. It sounds like it was a random, horrific act, so it’s a real sad thing.”
The assailant, who was arrested without incident, reigned terror on three separate locations spanning more than four hours Saturday night.
Blashill said he was familiar with the three locations – a car dealership, a restaurant and an apartment complex.
“I only spend a year there but it was a great year and great, great people in West Michigan,” Blashill said. “Obviously spent numerous years in West Michigan. It’s not a spot you think something’s gonna happen but that talks about how it’s fleeting life at times and a real sad thing.”
Ferschweiler’s wife Stacie and daughters Mia and Avery still live in the West Michigan community, where he coached for four years at WMU.
LINEUP CHANGES: Dylan Larkin will return to the Wings lineup tonight following a one-day bout with an illness of unknown origin. Larkin sat out Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss at Ottawa.
To make room for the rookie’s return Blahill has decided to sit Tomas Jurco instead of Teemu Pulkkinen, who filled in for Larkin’s absence on Saturday.
“I think we’ve got a lot of good players and I think when Teemu came out it wasn’t necessarily because he had played bad,” Blashill said. “What it does do potentially is keeps him on our power play. The one thing right now Jurco doesn’t have is a specialty team, so that’s kind of the crux of the decision.”
Jimmy Howard gets the start in place of Petr Mrazek, who started the last two games – a 6-3 loss at Pittsburgh and a 3-2 shootout at Ottawa.
Howard’s last win came Dec. 3 against Arizona. Since then the veteran goalie is 0-5-3 in his last nine starts.
“To be honest with you I’d like to see from our team a good defense,” Blashill said. “That’s the one thing that I don’t think we’ve given (Howard) enough of is a game, somewhat similar to last night where we didn’t give up lots of out-numbered rushes, we didn’t give up a lot of backdoor chances, we didn’t give up a lot of seconds. Petr had to make really his best save probably in overtime and other than that I didn’t think he had to make any spectacular saves. So we’d like to have that repeated effort defensively.”