Wings coach Blashill affected by shootings in Kalamazoo

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

New York — The tragic shootings in Kalamazoo Saturday night cut close to the Red Wings.

Head coach Jeff Blashill spent a season as head coach at Western Michigan in 2010-11, and his assistant there, Pat Ferschweiler, is currently an assistant with the Red Wings.

Ferschweiler spent four seasons with the Broncos, and both coaches were there when defenseman Danny DeKeyser played at Western.

When Blashill read reports of what was transpiring Saturday — a single shooter randomly killing six people at different Kalamazoo locations — it struck home.

“Horrible,” Blashill said of his emotions. “My first thought was actually Pat Ferschweiler’s family still lives in Kalamazoo so I let him know as soon as I saw it on the Internet. That incident wasn’t far from Pat’s home.

“Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Kalamazoo. It sounded like a random, horrific act. A real sad thing.”

Kalamazoo is a close-knit, college town, and the spots where the shootings occurred, such as a local car dealership and Cracker Barrel restaurant were spots Blashill was familiar with.

“I only spent a year there but it was a great year,” Blashill said of his season in Kalamazoo. “And great, great people in west Michigan, I’ve spent numerous years in west Michigan and it’s not a spot you think something like that will happen but it talks to how it’s a fleeting life at times and a real sad thing.”

Taking advantage

Andreas Athanasiou isn’t getting the playing time with the Red Wings he received in the minor leagues with Grand Rapids.

But Athanasiou is doing a good job maximizing that limited ice time.

Athanasiou scored his second NHL goal during Saturday’s shootout loss in Ottawa, and made several fine plays, while playing just under seven minutes (6:54).

“Whatever opportunity you get, you have to make the most of it and do the best to help the guys win,” Athanasiou said of his chances in the NHL. “Whether it’s scoring a goal to build momentum or just going out there and working hard in the defensive zone.

“You’ve got to be ready whenever you hear your name called. You know how to play the game whether you’re playing five to 10 minutes, or 10-20 minutes. It’s hockey. You’ve always got to be ready.”

Athanasiou has been impressive with his speed and hockey instincts — his goal Saturday came about when he saw Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson outnumbered by Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist and called for the puck, which Karlsson backhanded to Athanasiou open in the slot.

Blashill likes what Athanasiou has done in limited playing time.

“He’s made positive steps and statements that he is a reliable player,” Blashill said. “He used his speed once or twice as a defensive weapon (in Ottawa). AA’s best quality is in the spot he’s in, if he’s playing seven minutes, he can make an impact.”

Lineup changes

With Dylan Larkin (illness) returning to the lineup Sunday after missing the Ottawa game, Blashill took Tomas Jurco out and kept in Teemu Pulkkinen.

One of the reasons for keeping Pulkkinen is his ability to play on the power play, while Jurco has yet to secure a role.

“That’s one thing, Jurco doesn’t have a specialty team so that’s kind of the crux of the decision,” Blashill said. “When you’re not on either special team it’s easier to be eliminated from the lineup.”

Blashill would like to develop a fifth penalty killer to join Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, with Athanasiou possibly getting first crack at the spot.

Skate canceled

There was no morning skate Sunday, as St. John’s played Seton Hall in a college basketball game at noon at Madison Square Garden eliminated that possibility.