Traverse City – Coach Jeff Blashill wants the Red Wings to be miserable – in a hockey sort of way.
What Blashill means is that he wants his team to be difficult to play against, establish a tough identity at Little Caesars Arena, and generally be a pain for opponents.
To that end, and as a daily reminder, he made up T-shirts players are wearing during workouts, with a “60 Minutes of Hell” slogan on the back.
“We have to be harder to play against on a nightly basis,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure we’re not a tweener team – kind of skilled but not winning the skill game and kind of hard but not really hard enough. We have to be miserable to play against every night.
“I want teams walking into LCA saying, ‘Boy, I don’t want to play this game tonight.’
“The T-shirts are just a reminder on a daily basis of making sure we stay really miserable to play against every night.”
Blashill borrowed the slogan from former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson, whose teams played a relentless full-court pressure style in the 1990s. Richardson called it “40 Minutes of Hell” due to the two 20-minute halves in college basketball.
Red Wings players have reacted positively. More than a few have said this camp has been the most difficult they can remember.
“It’s been hard, harder than any camp I’ve been part of,” said Frans Nielsen, who is entering his 13th season. “It’s new times and it’s a good thing.
“The amount of pace and attitude, it hasn’t been easy by any means. But it’s the way camp should be you. You should come in prepared and get ready from day one. It’s been good.”
Sunday’s Red and White intrasquad scrimmage was physical and edgy, one sign Blashill’s message could be sinking in.
“You can feel the intensity level,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “The skates have been real hard here. It’s good – it keeps everyone on their toes. We’re competing for jobs out here. With Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) not here, there’s a lot of ice time up for grabs and it’s going to be competitive.
“It’ll make our team better.”
Nyquist noticed the T-shirt in his locker stall and believes it sends the right message.
“That’s going to be a big thing for us in order to have success,” Nyquist said. “We’ll have to outwork opponents out there and be on the hound, on the forecheck and backcheck, and not give the other team any sort of space or time and really make it hard for them to make plays.
“That’s just going to be our team identity. We want to be that hard-working team that makes it hard for opponents for a full 60 minutes. We have to do that to be successful.”
Blashill doesn’t want competition only to be intense against opponents; he also wants competition between lines for ice time.
Blashill said assistant coach Dan Bylsma, who’ll be in charge of the forwards, will monitor who is going well on a particular night and divide ice time accordingly.
“I’d like to make it highly competitive between the lines,” Blashill said. “Whatever line is really going, they’re going to keep getting lots of ice time. Dan Bylsma will be a guy I will lean on to make sure he’s watching that.
“As guys are getting ready for warmups, I want them thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let that line outplay me tonight.’
“We need to create that type of competitiveness in our group.”