Big Rapids, Mich. - Current Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill, a former Ferris State University men's ice hockey student-athlete and assistant coach, has been named the winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the American Hockey League's (AHL) outstanding coach for the 2013-14 season, as voted by fellow coaches and members of the media in each of the league's 30 cities.
Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the 40-year-old Blashill helped the Griffins maintain prominence this season in defense of their 2013 Calder Cup title despite a large-scale roster overhaul. With a 46-22-2-4 record (98 pts.), Grand Rapids currently ranks second in the Western Conference and sits only two points from claiming a second straight Midwest Division title.
Despite turnover which saw only four of their top 12 scorers from a year ago and just three of their top 10 playoff producers play a majority of this season in Grand Rapids, the Griffins have posted three separate seven-game winning streaks and have held first place in the Midwest Division since Nov. 3, never losing more than two consecutive games in regulation at any point this season. Grand Rapids ranks seventh in the AHL in offense (3.15 goals per game) and second in defense (2.42).
Blashill's influence has had a huge impact on the parent Detroit Red Wings as well, as he's prepared 10 of his 2013-14 players for their NHL debuts, including nine as members of the Wings. All told, 18 members of Blashill's 2013-14 squad were called up to play a total of 391 NHL games, and 13 players from his Calder Cup championship team logged time in Detroit this season, helping the club extend its playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons. Calder Cup champions scored goals in 15 of Detroit's 16 games prior to clinching a postseason berth.
In February, Blashill became the first Griffins head coach in 12 years to take part in the AHL All-Star Classic, guiding the AHL All-Stars to victories over Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League in both the skills competition and All-Star Game. The event, which took place at the Mile One Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, marked the first international contests in AHL All-Star history.
In 2012-13, his first season as a head coach at the pro level, Blashill led the Griffins to the Calder Cup, marking the first championship in the franchise's 17-year history. Blashill was named by the Red Wings as the ninth head coach in Griffins history on June 25, 2012 after serving as an assistant coach for the parent club in 2011-12, when he helped the team to its 12th consecutive 100-point season and 21st consecutive postseason appearance.
Blashill is the second Griffins head coach to be named AHL Coach of the Year and the third to be named his league's coach of the year, following the selections of Bruce Cassidy in 2001-02 and Guy Charron for the 1999-2000 International Hockey League season. Each prior winner moved on to the NHL the season after his honor, with Cassidy taking the reins of the Washington Capitals and Charron joining the Anaheim Ducks as an assistant.
The Louis A.R. Pieri Award, which was first presented in 1968, honors the late Mr. Pieri, a long-time contributor to the AHL as the owner and general manager of the Providence Reds and a 2009 inductee into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame. Previous winners of the award include Frank Mathers (1969), Fred Shero (1970), Al MacNeil (1972, '77), John Muckler (1975), Jacques Demers (1983), Larry Pleau (1987), Mike Milbury (1988), John Paddock (1988), Marc Crawford (1993), Barry Trotz (1994), Robbie Ftorek (1995, '96), Peter Laviolette (1999), Claude Julien and Geoff Ward (2003), Claude Noel (2004), Randy Cunneyworth (2005), Kevin Dineen (2006), Mike Haviland (2007), Scott Gordon (2008), Scott Arniel (2009), Guy Boucher (2010), John Hynes (2011), Jon Cooper (2012) and Willie Desjardins (2013).
Blashill has rapidly ascended hockey's coaching ladder, joining his fourth team in four seasons when he took the Grand Rapids helm a year ago, which was capped with yet another championship effort in his distinguished career. 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.