Big Rapids, Mich. - A pair of Ferris State University men's ice hockey alumni have played key roles and helped lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 2-0 series' edge in the 2013 American Hockey League (AHL) Calder Cup Finals as they return home after opening the championship series against the Syracuse Crunch with two victories on the road this past weekend.
First-year Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill guided his squad to the franchise's first-ever appearance in the AHL title series' and will be seeking to help Grand Rapids win its first Calder Cup by closing out the Crunch at home this week in the best-of-seven event. His team includes former Bulldog captain and current rookie defenseman Chad Billins, who is in his first full year with the Griffins.
Grand Rapids defeated Syracuse on the road in New York by a 3-1 count in Saturday's (June 8) opening game of the series before pulling off the road sweep with a 6-4 win on Sunday (June 9) night. Game three is set for Wednesday (June 12) evening at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids with game four on Friday (June 14) and game five, if necessary, set for Saturday (June 15) night in West Michigan.
Along with the Griffins' duo, the AHL Calder Cup series' also features another former Bulldog product in goaltender Pat Nagle, who is playing a backup role for Syracuse.
Billins helped set the tone in Saturday's first game of the series with an assist on the first goal of the weekend. Currently, in 20 playoff games to date this year, he has a pair of goals and 10 assists for 12 total points along with a +7 plus/minus efficiency rating. Presently, the Grand Rapids rookie leads all AHL defenseman in playoff scoring this season. During regular-season action, Billins totaled 37 points on 10 goals and a team second-best 27 assists in 76 contests. He placed sixth among the team's scoring leaders while recording seven power-play goals.
Meanwhile, Blashill has the Griffins on the verge of winning their first Calder Cup after becoming the ninth head coach in Griffins history last summer. He moved to Grand Rapids after serving as an assistant coach for the parent Detroit Red Wings in 2011-12, when he helped the team to its 12th consecutive 100-point season and 21st consecutive postseason appearance. Prior to joining the organization, he served as the head coach of the CCHA's Western Michigan Broncos in 2010-11, earning several national coach of the year honors.
Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Blashill has rapidly ascended hockey's coaching ladder, joining his fourth team in four seasons. He began his head coaching career with the USHL's Indiana Ice in 2008-09, capturing a franchise-record 39 wins and a Clark Cup championship. He compiled a 72-43-5 mark in two seasons as the Ice's head coach and general manager before departing for Western Michigan in 2010.
While in Kalamazoo in 2010-11, Blashill led the Broncos to a 19-13-10 record, doubling the team's win total from the previous season and leading the team to its best conference finish (4th) since 1995-96. Additionally, the Broncos played in the CCHA championship game for the first time since 1986 and earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996. Blashill was named a finalist for CCHA Coach of the Year and was named National Coach of the Year by College Hockey News, Inside College Hockey and USCHO.com.
Blashill began his coaching career by spending three seasons (1999-02) as an assistant at Ferris State University, his alma mater. He also spent six seasons (2002-08) with Miami University, helping the CCHA's RedHawks qualify for the NCAA Tournament four times while recruiting three Hobey Baker Finalists, four CCHA All-Rookie Team members, 11 first or second team All-CCHA players and six All-Americans. Blashill has also been a member of Team USA's coaching staff three times – at the 2009 World Junior 'A' Challenge, the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship and the 2006 U-18 Junior World Cup.
The former goaltender spent four seasons between the pipes for Ferris State, earning the Bulldogs' Rookie of the Year award in 1994-95 and a spot on the CCHA's All-Academic Team for 1996-97. He also garnered the Ferris State University President's Award for three straight years for having the highest grade point average on the Bulldogs.
Billins joined the Griffins after wrapping up his senior campaign as both an All-American on the ice and an Academic All-American for his work in the classroom while helping the Bulldogs to their first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance and a national runner-up effort in 2011-12.
A native of Marysville, Mich., Billins logged 29 points (7-22—29) and 24 penalty minutes in 43 games with the Bulldogs as a senior while claiming American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-America Second Team plaudits on the ice.
The veteran defenseman served as a co-captain for the Bulldogs during the team's run to the NCAA Frozen Four, where they were defeated in the championship game by Boston College. The 5-10, 175-pound defenseman skated in 149 games in four years with Ferris State, notching 67 points (17-50—67) and 108 penalty minutes.
Billins was recognized in his final season as both a All-CCHA First Team recipient and the winner of the CCHA's prestigious Scholar-Athlete Award as the Bulldogs claimed the school's second-ever league regular-season crown. He placed second among CCHA defensemen with 25 points (7-18—25) in 31 conference games.
In 2011-12, Billins was also a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award and earned a spot on the Senior CLASS All-America Team, which rewards academic success and the loyalty of seniors that honored their four-year commitment to their university. Billins also received nominations for CCHA's RBC Player of the Year and Best Offensive Defenseman awards.
Prior to his collegiate career, the 23-year-old defenseman skated for the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks in 2007-08 and finished fourth among the league's defensemen with 36 points (10-26—36) in 60 games. Billins also played 62 games for the Alpena IceDiggers of the NAHL from 2005-07, totaling 25 points (7-18—25) and 98 penalty minutes.
For more information on the 2013 Calder Cup Finals or to purchase tickets, please visit the official online home of the Grand Rapids Griffins at www.griffinshockey.com