After a rough start that saw them win only one of their first six contests, the Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, seem to have things on track. Largely in part to the play of rookie netminder Petr Mrazek, the Griffins have reeled off five straight victories and taken command of the Midwest Division.
The man behind the bench in Grand Rapids is Jeff Blashill, a first-year AHL coach who spent last season as an assistant to Mike Babcock with the Red Wings. When former head coach Curt Fraser departed in the offseason to accept an assistant coach position with the Dallas Stars, the search was on to find his replacement. It wasn’t long before the Wings’ brass announced they had their man in Blashill, familiar to area fans for leading the Western Michigan University Broncos to the CCHA Championship Game in 2010, his first and only season there. Under Blashill’s leadership, the Broncos also made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, their first trip there in 15 years. He was named collegiate coach of the year by the USCHO, Inside College Hockey and College Hockey News at the end of the season.
So far the job in Grand Rapids seems to be a great fit, and the previous experience Blashill had with a handful of the Red Wings’ prospects from his time in Detroit has helped. Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith, Joakim Andersson and Riley Sheahan all saw time with the Wings during the 2011-12 season and are among the Griffins’ top offensive producers thus far. Blashill is assisted by former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jim Paek, who is now in his eighth season with the team. One of Blashill’s first moves after training camp was naming journeyman winger Jeff Hoggan captain. Hoggan, who has seen NHL time with the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes, came into camp on a tryout but impressed enough to not only earn a contract, but the “C” as well. Hoggan’s leadership so far, as well as his offensive output, have made this look like a very good decision and shows that the coach values hard work and dedication.
Blashill was a goaltender in college, playing four seasons between the pipes for Ferris State University. He remained there and began his coaching career after his playing career ended, and would later coach at Miami University and in the USHL. His first season with the Indiana Ice saw them bring home the Clark Cup as league champions. Red Wings brass and Griffins fans alike will be watching this season, hopeful that Blashill’s success can continue at the AHL level.