GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Red Wings on Friday named Todd Nelson as the new head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Nelson, 46, becomes the 10th head coach in Griffins franchise history after splitting the 2014-15 season in head-coaching roles with the Oklahoma City Barons (AHL) and the Edmonton Oilers (NHL). The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, native guided the Barons to a 15-6-2-2 record and first place in the West Division, including a 10-game point streak from Nov. 15-Dec. 6, before taking over for Dallas Eakins as the interim head coach of the Oilers on Dec. 15. In his first stint as an NHL head coach, Nelson led Edmonton to a 17-25-9 record in 51 games.
One of the most accomplished defensemen in Grand Rapids history, Nelson was the first player ever signed to a Griffins contract on July 24, 1996, prior to the team’s inaugural season. Through parts of four seasons, Nelson amassed 67 points (11-56—67) and 123 penalty minutes in 236 career games with Grand Rapids. Most notably, Nelson was a member of the Griffins’ 1999-00 squad that reached the IHL Turner Cup Finals. He was an honorable mention IHL All-Star that season after leading the league with a plus-36 rating, and he ranks seventh overall in franchise history with a plus-53 rating.
Nelson’s 236 games played as a Griffin rank 19th all time and sixth among defensemen, while his 56 assists and 67 points both place 13th among Grand Rapids blueliners. Following in the footsteps of Danton Cole (2002-05), whom he served under as an assistant coach, Nelson becomes the second former Griffins player to be employed as Grand Rapids’ head coach.
A fourth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Nelson appeared in three regular season and four playoff games with the Penguins and Washington Capitals between 1991-94. In 887 professional games, Nelson logged 391 points (80-311—391) and has won five cups as a player and coach: a 1994 Calder Cup with Portland as a player, a 2002 UHL Colonial Cup with Muskegon as a player/assistant coach, 2004 and 2005 Colonial Cups with Muskegon as head coach, and a 2008 Calder Cup with Chicago as an assistant coach. He also made consecutive IHL All-Star Game appearances in 1992 (Muskegon Lumberjacks) and 1993 (Cleveland Lumberjacks).
Nelson began his full-time coaching career as an assistant with the Griffins in 2002-03, helping the team reach the Western Conference Finals after winning the Central Division and posting the best record in the conference during the regular season (48-22-8-2). Following his stint behind the Grand Rapids bench, Nelson served as the head coach of the UHL’s Muskegon Fury and captured cups in each of his first two seasons (2004, 2005) and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in his third.
Nelson returned to the AHL from 2006-08 as an assistant with the Chicago Wolves, capturing a Calder Cup in 2008, before departing for the NHL as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers for two seasons. From there, he served as the bench boss for the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons from 2010-15, leading his team to two Western Conference Finals appearances in just four full seasons. During the 2013 conference finals, Nelson’s Barons pushed the Griffins to Game 7 at Van Andel Arena, where Grand Rapids secured a 5-4 victory and advanced to the Calder Cup Finals. Overall, Nelson owns a 176-111-12-34 record as an AHL head coach.
He and his wife, Josette, have a son, Colton, and a daughter, Kyleigh.