DETROIT – As the first American-born head coach in franchise history, perhaps it’s only fitting that Jeff Blashill rounded out his first Red Wings’ coaching staff with a patriotic flavor.
“I guess for me it means I got some other guys to help cheer on Team USA come World Junior time,” Blashill said.
On Tuesday, Blashill announced that he’s adding – or in few cases keeping – Americans Tony Granato, Pat Ferschweiler and Chris Chelios, along with Jim Bedard and Dave Noel-Bernier to his staff for the upcoming 2015-16 campaign.
All five appointees have had some previous role in the organization, including Ferschweiler and Noel-Bernier, who where assistant coaches under Blashill at AHL Grand Rapids last season.
While it’s interesting to note, the fact that four of the six men on the Wings’ coaching staff are American-born is purely coincidence.
“I didn’t even realize it, I hadn’t even thought about it, similar to the fact I didn’t know I was the first American-born coach of the Red Wings,” said Blashill, who was born in Southfield, Michigan. “I tried to put together the best staff that I could, both from their talent and experience standpoint to the cohesiveness of the staff. I think it just so happens there’s Tony and Pat being American guys probably has something to do with paths being crossed through the years. Certainly Pat and I crossed paths through recruiting when I was a college coach and he was a midget coach. That might have something to do it with.”
Granato and Ferschweiler will join Blashill as his assistants behind the Wings’ bench during games. In his second season with the Wings, Granato, an Illinois native, will continue his role of running the defense and the penalty kill. Ferschweiler will coach the forwards and work with the Wings’ power play, which ranked second in the league last season.
Noel-Bernier, 39, has been added to the staff as a video coach, and Bedard will return for his 19th season as the Wings’ goaltending coach.
Of those added to the coaching staff, Ferschweiler, who was born in Minnesota, probably has the longest running relationship with Blashill. The two coached together for one season each at Western Michigan University (2010-11) and with the Griffins (2014-15).
“Pat has a great hockey mind, he is one of the best guys I’ve been around, helping individual players get better,” Blashill said. “I think one of the things that we owe to our players is to help them become the best players that they can be each and every year. That’s a promise that I’m gonna make to the players and Pat is going to have a big impact on that, especially with our forwards.
“He’s a good sounding board for me. He knows the way I think. He knows a lot of the things that we want to be about. He’ll be able to tell me when I’m on the right path and when I’ve gotten off the right path. So I think Pat is a huge, huge asset on our staff.”
Granato and Bedard are the only holdovers from Mike Babcock’s staff, and Blashill is glad to have them.
“Tony was my No. 1 priority,” Blashill said. “From a model staff I wanted a guy with lots of NHL playing and coaching experience. So Tony obviously fits that model. But probably beyond that and more importantly, I think he’s a home run because of the person he is. Tony’s an outstanding person, an outstanding hockey coach, who has earned the respect of so many of the players that he’s coached.”
Keeping Bedard on staff was equally important for Blashill, a former collegiate goaltender himself. Bedard has worked diligently with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, while building a trust and respect among the goalies, who more than likely, will battle for the No. 1 job in training camp.
“I think Jimmy’s a proven NHL goalie coach, he’s done a great job over the years,” Blashill said. “Having some of that experience added to our staff or continuing with our staff is important. The other thing is Jimmy and I have a relationship where I got certain beliefs in things a goalie should do, drills a goalie should do, no different than I have certain beliefs in the penalty kill and things like that where I would discuss with other coaches. Jimmy and I have a relationship where we’re going to be able to have those discussions. I think it’s important.”
Chelios, another Illinois native, is an interesting piece to the coaching equation. For the past three seasons he’s commuted to Grand Rapids, where, periodically he worked with the organization’s young defensemen. The hall of famer will continue that role now in Detroit instead of Grand Rapids.
Aside from his role at practices, the 53-year-old Chelios will also be asked to evaluate in-game player performances and offer insight and observations to the other members of the coaching staff. He will attend all home games, and on occasion, join the club on the road.
|Tony Granato returns for his second season with the Red Wings. He will continue his coaching role with the defensemen and the team's penalty kill. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings) |
“He’s done a great job for me of getting me a player perspective,” Blashill said. “He looks at the game a lot through the eyes of a player, and I think when you’ve coached a long time you think like a coach and a lots of times Cheli thinks like a player. He looks at a lot of plays from a micro view and maybe I’ll look at them from a macro view. I think that different perspective has been invaluable for me over the last three years. I think Cheli is another great, great person who can lend his obvious, unbelievable playing experience with the players in the locker room. He obviously has instant respect of everybody he comes across.”
Last week, Chelios accepted an assistant coach position with USA Hockey at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
Noel-Bernier comes to the Wings with video coach experience from his time at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he was director of hockey operations, video coach and assistant strength and conditioning coach from 2007-10.
“He’ll be largely in charge of our pre-scouts, so he’ll be the one watching our upcoming opponents,” Blashill said. “He’ll be breaking those games down and supplying the information to me and the rest of the staff. … You also need somebody in that role who’s willing to work and Dave’s a tireless worker.”
From a transitional standpoint, the familiarity that the players and the coaching staff will be a big plus, Blashill said.
“I think it helps in the respect-level earned from both the player to the coach and the coach to the player,” he said. “With the familiarity with the coaches to the players and coaches to each other, it’s going to allow us to hit the ground running and maybe ease over some of those bumps in the road that we could face.”