DETROIT – Former Red Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill hopes that a change of scenery could be a good thing for his younger brother and the Big Rapids hockey team.
Seeking their first win of the season, the Cardinals, coached by Tim Blashill, will face-off against Cadillac in a non-conference high school game this afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The game is the first of four prep contests at JLA this week.
The eight teams were originally scheduled to play outdoors at Comerica Park as part of this month’s Winter Festival, which was cancelled by the ongoing NHL lockout.
“I’m real excited for Tim and certainly for his players,” said Jeff Blashill, now the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins. “For his players to hit the ice at Joe Louis and for Tim to be behind the bench at Joe Louis is special.”
Tim Blashill, 36, is no stranger to hockey and to the Big Rapids community. He served six seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at the college in town, Ferris State University, where he worked with his big brother before Jeff departed for greener pastures at Miami University in Ohio. Tim is in his eighth season behind the Cardinals’ bench.
The brothers remain close through a love of hockey and their coaching careers, and it’s not unusual to see Jeff Blashill at Big Rapids games. He was at the first meeting this season, a 3-1 Cadillac win last month in what has become a tradition in the two northern Michigan communities. The annual Thanksgiving Eve game has grown into the 131 Cup Challenge – named for the stretch of U.S. Highway that connects the two small towns.
“I was up at the game this year when they played Cadillac; it didn’t go Big Rapids’ way, but I’ve been at the game when it has gone their way in the past,” Jeff said. “There’s a lot of emotion involved and it’s a real heated rivalry.”
The Blashills both played collegiate hockey; Jeff was a goalie at Ferris and Tim played defense at Fredonia (N.Y.) State. A 1994 graduate of Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) High School, he was a three-sport star in football, baseball and hockey, where he received Most Valuable Defenseman accolades in his senior season.
“The thing with Tim is that he was a tough hockey player, who was a very well-liked team guy,” said Jeff, who is three years old than his younger brother. “I think he has a great demeanor with the players. He’s in charge, but I believe his players enjoy playing for him. It’s great for a high school program and he’s certainly well-suited for that.”
Aside from the Detroit Catholic High School League championships last year, prep games are a rarity at The Joe, which will make Wednesday’s game extraordinary for several young men and their coach.
“I remember the first opportunity that I had to be behind the bench at The Joe,” Jeff Blashill said. “I was with Miami and it’s just a tremendous feeling and Tim and his players will certainly cherish that moment.”
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