New Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill talks about his experiences playing hockey growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Brand new Detroit Red Wings
Coach Jeff Blashill may have been born in Detroit and hit it big as an NHL head man in the Motor City, but he fell in love with hockey right here in the Upper Peninsula– more specifically, Sault Ste. Marie.
Jeff's father, Jim, was a Detroit policeman for 10 years, but soon after Jeff was born the family moved north so Jim could take a job as a professor of criminal justice at Lake Superior State University
, where he stayed for 30 years. Jeff, his father and mother, Rosemary, and the rest of his siblings grew up in a house on campus across from then-university president Kenneth Shouldice.
Back then it was common for faculty members and their families to live in the row houses on campus and the young Blashill kids took full advantage of the amenities that awaited them.
"My dad hadn't played hockey, he didn't know a lot about hockey," says Jeff Blashill, who's now 41. "But once we got to the Soo it was full immersion into hockey, so it certainly set me on my course to where I am today."
There were the street hockey games in the parking lot behind the Blashills' home. Almost immediately, Jeff took to goaltending, where his first goal crease was the area in front of the dumpster in the parking lot.
Players from the LSSU Lakers team would often join in on the street hockey fun too. The players lived up the street, in a row house just a few doors down, so periodically, guys like Steve Mulholland, Mickey Candler, Chris Dahlquist, Scott Stephens, Pete Stauber, Sandy Moger and Karl Johnston would stop by and test Blashill's budding goaltender skills.
"As you can imagine in our backyard there, the parking lot," Blashill says. "We used to play street hockey and do things and a lot of the Lakers would come out and play. It was certainly unique, and Lake State hockey was a big part of our lives growing up."
It was also common to find the Blashill boys during the harsh winter months skating on the ice rink constructed by university maintenance workers in front of the president's residence.
"The staff there took really good care of us," Blashill says. "They did it right. They had all of the equipment and it was probably one of the nicer pond rinks you could skate on. It was great too because they had the flood lights on campus, so they would stay on all night and we would play for quite awhile."
"Hockey became a family experience," he says.
Jeff names youth coaches John Ferroni and Bob Brown as two of his biggest hockey influences; then, of course there were the people he met as a freshman at Sault Ste. Marie High. During high school, he left the Soo during hockey seasons to play for the Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League in 1991-94.
From there, Jeff played hockey and graduated from Ferris State (1994-'98), then coached at Ferris, Miami of Ohio, the Indiana Ice of the H.S. Hockey League, Western Michigan, was named a Red Wings assistant from 2011-'12, and was named head coach of the Red Wings minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins in 2012 until being hired as the Red Wings head coach in early June of this year.
Along the way, Jeff married Erica and now has three children--Teddy, Josie and Owen.
"Yes, this is my biggest day in hockey and it is happening in Detroit," Blashill says. "But I couldn't have done it without my experiences in the Soo."
Jeff Barr is a freelance writer who has covered topics throughout Michigan for more than 40 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JeffBarr88.