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Wings' Blashill learning on the fly as MIS grand marshal

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, Mich. — Jeff Blashill did the  news conference that is the obligation of motorsport races grand marshals, , noted an unsmiling guy wearing a Blackhawks cap sitting nearby, who then exited stage right to the garages at Michigan International Speedway to observe “the process.”

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, right, speaks as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Michigan Economic Development Corporation CEO Steve Arwood look on during a news conference Sunday at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Important for a hockey team rebuilding on the fly, like the Red Wings, Blashill mentions “the process” so much during the season — i.e., “If we stick our process and take care of the details…” — even he jokes about it.

But whether it is visiting the Lions in camp earlier this month or the NASCAR drivers and crews as they went through their processes, preparing for the Pure Michigan 400, a coach or athlete in any sport can learn from, and appreciate, those engaged in a different one.

“I’m going to go through the garage here, in a second,” said Blashill, who is looking ahead to his sophomore year as an NHL coach.

“I’m excited to see pit row and to see everything that goes into the team of it, all the little intricacies. “I’ve looked for learning opportunities in lots of different spots.

“I actually had the chance to go to a Lions practice last week, and then a chance to do something like this will be an incredible thing.”

Blashill knew one of the Sprint Cup drivers, Michael Annett, who drives a Chevrolet for HScott Motorsports.

Unknowns make Pure Michigan 400 unpredictable

“I played my junior hockey in Iowa. During my time in Des Moines, Michael Annett was young hockey player growing up,” Blashill said.

Arnett eventually played junior hockey just before Blashill coached in the league, the USHL.

The two are not close, but certainly acquaintances years later

“We’ve got mutual connections to some real good friends of mine, and I’ve always kept track of his career and how he’s doing, so I’m excited to watch him here.”

As you might expect, with at least four reporters in the room who have covered Blashill during the hockey season, he was asked a couple of Red Wings questions, including one about veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who had an off-year last season, and who will pass on playing for Sweden in the World Cup to care for his balky knees.

He said most of his conversations with the 35-year-old defenseman have been with GM Ken Holland and trainer Piet van Zandt.

“Nick wanted to play in the World Cup, he wanted to represent his country,” Blashill said. “I’ve got great respect for our players having that opportunity.

“But he also promised us that he was going to put the Red Wings first, and if he didn’t feel like he was 100 percent, because of the early start of the World Cup, he wasn’t going to play.

“Ultimately, that is what he chose to do.

“His focus, right now, is to be ready for camp. I expect him to be ready for camp.

“As you know, it’s a day-to-day business and we’ll see where that brings us. We hope that he’s ready to go and be the great player that Nick Kronwall has been.”

Blashill sat on the dais in the MIS media center and spoke to the assembled racing media, along with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Steve Arwood, chief executive officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, who touted the 10th year of the Pure Michigan marketing campaign, about three hours before the green flag dropped at the Pure Michigan 400.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Blashill said, of serving as grand marshal, as Dylan Larkin did earlier this race season, on Belle Isle, for the IndyCar races. “When I was asked to do this, I said yes in an instant.

“I was born in Detroit. I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie. Most of my professional life, I’ve been in Michigan. I’ve got great pride in the state of Michigan,” said the son of former Detroit police officer, Jim Blashill, who later taught at Lake Superior State. “I say all the time, I want it to be the best state in the union, and I think we are.”

Blashill will not get a chance to drive on the track, but he got a blistering two-lap ride in the pace car.

“I’ll tell you, I did not drive,” he said, with a big smile. “We’re not to that point, yet. It was unbelievable. For me, it raised my respect level for the drivers.

“I mean to double the speed we were going and with 40 other cars out there bumping and grinding, it was incredible.

“To hit that turn and not feel the brakes, I didn’t talk to my driver the whole time. I didn’t want to distract him.”

Twitter: @greggkrupa