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New era begins

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Daniel Cleary cleared waivers but has decided not to go to Grand Rapids. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- After a 6-0-2 preseason, it's time for the Red Wings and new coach Jeff Blashill to get things going for real.

Blashill, a Detroit native who led the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins to a Calder Cup championship in his first season there, hopes to duplicate the tremendous success he has had at other levels in the NHL.

Several players who were on that Calder Cup team are now with the Red Wings. including Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Landon Ferraro, Joakim Andersson and Danny DeKeyser.

While they have all developed as players, they have witnessed Blashill develop as a head coach.

They believe Blashill has made a seamless transition to being an NHL head coach so far.

"As well as I thought he was going to," Ferraro said. "At the same time, other than (Mike) Green and (Brad) Richards, I think he's coached everyone that's here. Everyone's familiar with him and what kind of a character guy he is and what he expects out of his teams. I think he's done a great job so far and just kind of eager to get going now."

Nyquist, who played in the Wings' seven-game, second-round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and then immediately went to the Griffins to help them win the Calder Cup in 2013, agreed with Ferraro.

"He's been great," Nyquist said. "A bunch of energy in this room, a couple younger guys that have come up and taken a spot now as well. I think that adds some young legs and some speed and energy at practice, and just overall feeling, I think we're all real excited.

"We made some changes, I think we'll play a little more offensive type game this year but still keeping most of the same systems in the neutral zone, stuff like that. The transition's been great, I think Blash has been great explaining everything. I feel like the team is on the same page, for sure."

Although Blashill has downplayed how special it is during the preseason, he admitted he intends to try to take it all in before the puck drops tonight.

"I’m somebody who believes in enjoying the journey, and you have to enjoy life," Blashill said. "I totally believe in that. So, I’m sure when I step on that bench you look around and say ‘this is pretty cool.’ There’s no doubt about that, and I won’t hide away from that. My focus this morning has been on our meetings, been on our pre-game skate. My focus tonight will be on executing. But when I step on the bench there’s no question I’ll take a second to saying, ‘this is a real neat thing.’ I get an unbelievable special opportunity to be able to coach in my home state for a hometown team is a really neat thing."

POPULAR LARKIN: Blashill isn't the only area native making his regular-season debut tonight.

Dylan Larkin, 19, was surrounded this morning by reporters after the morning skate.

"I feel ready," Larkin said. "I think my whole life I’ve been dreaming about this. Going through camp has got me ready for this."

Although he might have a few nerves, he'll have veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader on his line to help him ease into things.

"It’s pretty easy to play with him," Larkin said of Zetterberg. "I try and just focus on getting open and I know he’s going to find me at some point. As far as him being a mentor, a leader, it’s unbelievable just watching him in practice. He makes things so easy for me."

Zetterberg, who turns 35 today, has said that having kids like Larkin around helps the veterans stay young, even when Larkin can't remember the Wings without him.

"He makes it pretty comfortable," Larkin said. "He’s such a nice guy and he always has a smile on his face around the rink. Ever since I can remember watching the Red Wings he’s been on the team. Just to play with him and be here tonight is something I’ll never forget."

One thing that will make it even more unique for Larkin is that his first regular-season game is against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Larkin's father, Kevin, is from Toronto.

"He has a big family from Scarborough," Larkin said. "I’m American and he’s Canadian, so he’s got a lot of buddies texting him that are pretty excited that I’m playing my first game against the Leafs."

Don't get it twisted though. Kevin Larkin knows where his priorities are.

"He did grow up a Leafs fan, but he will be rooting against the Leafs," Dylan Larkin said.

MORE RED WINGS-MAPLE LEAFS THAN BLASHILL-BABCOCK: So much has been made of Leafs coach Mike Babcock opposing Blashill, his former assistant.

Yet both coaches say it's not about that at all.

"I understand from the human element, why it is," Blashill said. "But in terms of tonight’s hockey game it’s gonna be the players on the Detroit Red Wings and the players on the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s what it is. From the coach’s perspective, have we done a good enough job preparing our guys? Are we in position for our guys to be ready to execute? Where is our energy level? Those are things that coaches are certainly responsible for. Obviously there’s some in-game stuff but for the majority my concentrations on the Detroit Red Wings playing great hockey."

Babcock echoed Blashill.

"The storyline tonight is the Red Wings play the Leafs, two Original Six franchises, one that’s holding its rightful place and one that’s trying to get back to where it should be," Babcock said. "I enjoyed my time here. I’m looking forward to this game being over so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. But I’m enjoying being the Leafs coach, too. It’s energizing. It’s way different. And it’s fun. I met with Blash last night. I know he’s enjoying being the Red Wings coach and he should be the Red Wings coach. He’s a Michigan guy. He’s done a lot to get to this opportunity and he’s got a good team. He’s going to have fun with that and I’m going to have fun coaching the Leafs."

CLEARY WON'T GO TO GRAND RAPIDS: Wings general manager Ken Holland said forward Dan Cleary, who cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to Grand Rapids, has elected not to report there.

Cleary will now have to decide whether he wishes to retire.

Cleary's $950,000 salary will not count against the salary cap.

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