There was speculation in this column's previous entry that WMU head coach Jeff Blashill could be the Detroit Red Wing's newest assistant coach. You can read that article here. Jeff Blashill is, indeed, going to fill that role. His acceptance of the role was announced last week by the Detroit Red Wings in this post.
This hiring was not necessarily the expected choice in the hockey world. Jeff's credentials and accomplishments are impressive, but it was assumed that the roles Detroit was looking to fill would come from a former NHL head coach like Ken Hitchcock. Instead, though, Mike Babcock (head coach) and Ken Holland (General Manager) decided to engage in a thorough search for the best possible candidate. "I was surprised to hear Mike's voicemail," Jeff told me. "We had some mutual contacts," and the rest is history.
Jeff Blashill is Michigan born and bred. He is familliar with nearly every facet of NCAA hockey. He was a player under Bob Daniels at Ferris State University from 1994 to 1998, receiving rookie of the year honors in his first season. Jeff also won the President's award for having the highest GPA of any student on the team three straight years, while earning a bachelor's degree in finance. In short, Jeff took full advantage of the athletic and academic's at Ferris State.
After graduation, Jeff was able to spend four years as an assistant coach with his mentor Bob Daniels. "Bob was an unbelievable mentor. He gave me the freedom to make decisions, and that helped me to develop." This, in itself is a high compliment from one of the most respected head coaches in collegiate hockey. From there, Jeff served as assistant coach at Miami of Ohio under head coach Enrico Blasi, and then coached in the USHL, before landing at Western Michigan University.
Jeff's leap to the NHL is opening a door to what he calls, "A great pool of coaching candidates for the NHL". Professional hockey is all about relationships. Many times the bonds formed in Bantam and CHL play are life-long. The American collegiate route has not always been looked at, and some promising youth find themselves going to Canadian leagues with hopes of advancing. Jeff's successful transition will turn many more heads to American Collegiate Hockey, as it is evident more and more talent is rising from that pool.
On the Detroit Red Wings, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, and Jimmy Howard have all come from Collegiate Hockey. They are all promising stars who turned heads last year with their solid performance. With the NHL expansions of the past, the doors to the NHL are much more accessible for those who would seek a solid education alongside their dreams of becoming players in the greatest league on earth. For Jeff, growing up in Michigan, "I dreamed of being a player for the Red Wings". Still, the realization that he will soon join one of the elite coaches in the NHL behind the bench of an 11-time Stanley Cup winning organization is an exciting one.
Congratulations to Coach Jeff Blashill. His success is a tremendous home-grown story for Michigan, and an astounding example that education does not have to take second place to our greatest aspirations. Jeff has no regrets for the path he took, and both the NHL and Michigan Collegiate Hockey are going to be better off for his hard work and incredible work ethic.