Detroit native Blashill named head coach of the Red Wings

Jeff Blashill is the 27th coach in the history of the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeff Blashill is the 27th coach in the history of the Detroit Red Wings.

You can’t get much more homegrown than the new head coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

Jeff Blashill was named the 27th head coach of the Red Wings today, replacing Mike Babcock who left the team last month for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Blashill has an intimate connection with Detroit — he was born there. He comes to the Wings after serving as the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL for the last three seasons. In that role he guided many of the current Red Wings when they were forming their game. During the 2011-12 season Blashill was an assistant coach with the Wings under Babcock, of whom he said, “He’s a hockey genius and an inspiring mentor.”

Blashill is the son of a former Detroit policeman who eventually moved his family to Sault Ste. Marie when Jeff was a child. Blashill played hockey in college at Ferris State University where he was a goalie and later served as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs. His Michigan roots run deep — he coached the Western Michigan University hockey team with success (he was named National Coach of the Year by three publications) before earning a job in the professional game.

He takes over a team that’s trying to balance experience and youth. The Wings took the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs before succumbing. Their season was marred by several injuries and inconsistent play on the offensive side. But Babcock was able to coax a 100-point season out of the team, good for a sixth seed in the playoffs.

At 40 years old, Blashill is the second-youngest coach in the National Hockey League and he’s two years younger than Babcock was when he took the Detroit job in 2005. The last Detroit coach younger than Blashill who guided the team for a full season was Jimmy Skinner who took over more than 60 years ago at the age of 37 for the 1954-55 season.

Blashill will be filling big shoes — Babcock guided the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup title in 2008 and to the Finals in 2009 where they lost to Pittsburgh. Babcock’s 458 wins behind the bench are the most in Detroit franchise history and he led the team to the playoffs in each of his ten seasons, extending their streak to 24 straight appearances in the postseason. Though he stunned some by leaving Detroit, Babcock is a well-respected coach who will be hard for Blashill to replace.

The Wings are well-stocked with talent: stars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are still playing great hockey and the roster also features young stalwarts Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, and Tomas Jurco. 22-year old Petr Mrazek is coming on strong as the goaltender of the future. This week several members of the Lightning, who are battling for the Cup title, said that the Wings were the toughest team they faced on their way to the final round. The future seems bright in Detroit.

But Blashill will be under a microscope. Just making the playoffs isn’t enough in Detroit— fans expect banners to be added to the rafters in Hockeytown. Blashill won’t be expected to win a title immediately, but he’ll have to prove himself equal to the task of going head-to-head with experienced NHL coaches, including Babcock who will lead his Leafs in the same division.

So far in his hockey career Blashill has earned respect for his work ethic and ability to teach players. He favors tough defensive play with a focus on skills, puck possession, and avoiding penalties. In that sense, he coaches his team much in the same manner that Bobcock did, so the Wings system shouldn’t change much. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s coached — he led the Indiana Ice to the USHL title in 2009, guided WMU to the NCAA tournament, and led Grand Rapids to the Calder Cup.