Wings’ Blashill: Coaching Team USA an honor

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Coach Jeff Blashill and several of his Red Wings players are about ready to jump back into the hockey season.

The NHL regular season has been over for several weeks — the second round of the playoffs is underway — but the men’s world championships are beginning May 5 (lasting until May 21) in Cologne, Germany and Paris.

Blashill is head coach of Team USA, which will have forward Dylan Larkin, defenseman Danny DeKeyser and goalie Jimmy Howard on its roster.

Team USA begins its tournament May 5 against host Germany. Blashill and his players will hold a three-day training camp in Milan, Italy, before having an exhibition game Tuesday against Italy.

“Anytime you get an opportunity to represent your country in a tournament like this, it’s an honor,” said Blashill, who is coaching a national team for the fourth time in an international tournament. “We have a great group of players who are ready for the challenge, want to represent their countries, and take in this experience.”

Heading into the tournament, Team USA isn’t considered a favorite to capture a gold medal.

Canada has a deep and experienced roster that could be strengthened even more as players eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs decide whether to play more hockey at the world championships.

Finding players to make the commitment is always an issue. Coming off a long NHL regular season, nursing injuries, and simply the long time away from home are issues that usually hurt the USA and Canada in recruiting players for the tournament.

But Blashill and the Team USA staff have been able to put together a competitive group, including the three Red Wings, who Blashill feels will benefit greatly from competing in the tournament.

Both Larkin and DeKeyser are likely to play big roles on the Team USA roster.

“Both of them were playing some of their best hockey toward the end of the regular season,” Blashill said. “Hopefully they can carry that over into this tournament and continue at that level of play.”

Howard was one of the NHL’s best goalies, statistically, before spraining his knee in early December, forcing him to miss the next three months.

“This gives Howie an opportunity to get more games under his belt,” said Blashill, who’ll have Howard as his No. 1 goalie, with Commerce Township’s Connor Hellebuyck (Walled Lake Northern) as the backup.

Every NHL coach and player ideally would like to be competing in the NHL playoffs this time of year — but particularly from a coaching perspective, there are positives that can be gleaned from being at the world championships.

Exchanging ideas with different coaches, dealing with different players, while doing it on a world-class level can only benefit a head coach.

“It’s a terrific hands-on experience,” Blashill said. “Obviously you want to be involved in the NHL playoffs this time of year. But if you can’t be, this is the incredible tournament to be involved in.”

IIHF men’s hockey world championship

When: May 5-21 in Germany and France.

Red Wings: Defenseman Danny DeKeyser, goalie Jimmy Howard, and forward Dylan Larkin are on the Team USA roster. Jeff Blashill is the Team USA coach.

First game: May 5 vs. Germany, 2:15 p.m. (EST).