New Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant Coach Jeff Blashill is looking for a fresh start and positive his move to Tampa will be a beneficial one for all.
Could the Lightning be considered the NHL’s version of a home for wayward former head coaches to find their way back towards another run to lead? Former Detroit coach Jeff Blashill can hope for such good fortune.
No matter the sport, a well-known fact in the coaching world is that any up-and-coming new hire is bound in one of two directions. There is the opportunity to succeed. There is the opportunity to fail. Every new coach out there wants to be on the side of success.
Some reach the pinnacle. Many do not.
For every coaching failure, there’s a chance for redemption elsewhere. In football, the Alabama Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban and New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick often take discarded former head coaches, “rehabilitates” them as one of their assistants, and releases them back into the wild to head another football program.
Blashill has found his way to the Lightning bench. Compiling a 204-261-72 record in seven seasons, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman chose to let Blashill go in April. Blashill found himself a man without a team.
Cue Bolts Head Coach Jon Cooper and a friendship that has spanned years as well as leagues.
We have hired Jeff Blashill as assistant coach.
Glad to have you in Tampa, Coach!https://t.co/vgPFocOxBw
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) July 12, 2022
A Relationship Born in Michigan
The relationship between Blashill and Cooper began in Michigan. Blashill, a Detroit native who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, got to know Cooper coaching teams together in the summertime while he was an assistant at his alma mater, Ferris State University. Cooper, from Prince George, British Columbia, earned his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, and eventually coached hockey at Lansing Catholic Central High School.
“Him and I, our history goes back for 10-12 years, maybe longer than that,” Blashill said in 2015. “We coached teams together in Michigan in the summer. I recruited lots of players off him. He’s somebody that I have a great, great deal of respect for. We’re probably alike a lot in a lot of ways. He’s somebody I speak to tons.”
Cooper and Blashill Stay Connected Through the Years
Blashill would move on in the coaching ranks from there. Along with his time as an assistant at Ferris State, he would also coach at Miami (OH).
In 2008, he would become head coach and general manager of the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League. His first season, the Tier 1 junior hockey team would win the Clark Cup as USHL champions.
His path with Cooper would cross again during his time in the USHL, now as adversaries. Cooper would compete in the USHL as head coach of the Green Bay Gamblers, leading them to a Clark Cup championship in 2010.
Following the Gamblers’ championship, Cooper would move on as a new hire of the Lightning to coach the affiliate Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League. Blashill would soon follow in 2012 as the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ affiliate.
Cooper quickly moved to Tampa as their Head Coach in 2013.
With a Calder Cup championship in 2013, the Griffins setting franchise-high marks, and the only coach in team history to make three straight Calder Cup playoff appearances, Blashill became Red Wings head coach in 2015.
Strengthening Bonds as Rivals in the NHL
Blashill struggled in his seven seasons with Detroit. Cooper appears to be rising to the pinnacle of NHL coaching near-immortality, with the Lightning on a meteoric rise in excellence: two Stanley Cups in four appearances in the Finals since 2015.
The Bolts don’t appear to be slowing any time soon.
Blashill would only see his Red Wings make it to the Stanley Cups Playoffs once. That happened in his very first season in Detroit. They quickly lost in the first round to Cooper’s Lightning squad on their way to a visit to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We obviously didn’t have the success that we wanted on the ice (in Detroit),” Blashill commented following his departure. “But part of that is the situation we were in and the fact that shortly after my time we went into a rebuild that become a full rebuild.”
Despite the rivalry between Detroit and Tampa Bay, the bond between coaches during this time grew, as well.
“When you think back to a number of years ago when our friendships were formed, I don’t know if any of us would have thought we’d be where we are today,” Blashill said in 2018 when speaking of his relationships with Cooper and his inevitable successor at Detroit, Derek Lalonde. “We had a good time together and all of it, we worked hard but were never worried about any kind of path.
“It’s awesome that in our own way we all kind of found different ways to have an opportunity to coach in this great league.”
From Rivals Back to Colleagues
Now that Blashill and Cooper are reunited in Tampa, there is renewed energy for the assistant coach.
“We obviously had detailed conversations and in the end we both came to the conclusion that this was right move for both of us and I’m certainly excited about it,” Blashill said at a July 12th press conference. “And I believe he is, as well.”
“I have to make sure that I can bring value to the organization and bring value to the team. Players want to know that you’re going to help them become the best player they can be.”
When asked of his friendship with Cooper, Blashill didn’t shy away.
“Our families are friends. Our wives are friends,” said Blashill. “They’re (the Coopers) are great, great people. Certainly that’s an attractive part of the job for me is knowing that the person that I’m going to work for is somebody I have a tremendous amount of respect for.”
“Friendship is important. But way more important than that is the amount of respect that I have for Jon Cooper as a coach, and I’ve had that respect for him for 20 years.”
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