Wings' Jeff Blashill dishes assist, insight in coaches mentorship program
Detroit — NHL coaches aren’t able to coach their players these days, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped coaching.
Many, including Red Wings' Jeff Blashill, can be found coaching coaches.
Blashill and other NHL coaches of the NHL Coaches’ Association fast-forwarded the launch of its mentorship program approximately six months with coaching webinars to help hockey coaches quarantined at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, the webinars on the website (nhlcoaches.com/nhlca-mentorship-program) have attracted some 3,000 coaches from over 30 countries in a matter of almost two months.
“I have a number of coaches who are friends in the coaching industry, in various levels, and they’ve all said it’s been great. They really enjoyed it,” said Blashill, who did a webinar specific to the challenges of the United States Hockey League, where Blashill coached before going to Western Michigan. “Especially in these times when you’re looking for something (to do), it’s been great. It was set up to eventually do this, but the timing has worked out.
“It just allows insight, allows people to learn from the shared experiences of NHL coaches.”
A hockey coach, be it the men’s or women’s game at the college, junior, high school or youth league level, can gather information and knowledge from a variety of webinars offered by NHL head and assistant coaches.
Presentations on the penalty kill, power play, pre- and post-scouting, communication, and “My Coaching Journey,” a webinar by Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger, who has coached in Europe and has been in the front office of English soccer’s Premier League, are just some of the available options. New ones come out in a timely schedule.
There’s been a real positive response from women’s coaches, with information and strategy specific to the women's game, which many coaches have been enthusiastic about.
Blashill did a presentation on the USHL because of his familiarity with the league and the challenges of coaching teenage players who are dreaming of pro careers.
“In my case I really enjoyed the opportunity,” Blashill said. “It was, in my mind, a chance to speak to the coaches in the USHL knowing there are unique challenges and say to them these are the lessons I learned and maybe they may apply to you.
“We did a question and answer afterward and there were some real good questions. It was just a good opportunity to have others learn from your experiences.”
While some coaches, at various levels, are sometimes hesitant about sharing or discussing strategy, Blashill is among a new wave of coaches who are willing and eager to share ideas.
For Blashill, it goes back to when he entered the coaching profession.
“I’ll say I’ve been willing to share my thoughts, and I’ve been willing to share those things, because I know people shared those things with me,” Blashill said. “I grew because of it. Ultimately if you copy and paste what I do, it’s not going to work for you. You have to be able to take the message and apply it to your own way and your own situation.
“That, to me, is the secret anyway. Sharing my thoughts and ideas is not a big issue. It’s more what can each person do with it and can it initiate thought and (can a person) allow it to apply in their own situation.”
Though strategy is a big segment of the program, how to deal with today’s players and getting the maximum from your players, said Blashill, is just as important.
“A priority of our job is that you can know all the X's and O’s, but you have to be able to connect and manage people and get the most out of them," Blashill said.
“People do it in a variety of ways. You have to do it toward your personality and that’s your No. 1 job.”
Blashill has coached in the USHL, college and minor pro and has been an assistant and head coach at the NHL level. That allows him to understand what different coaches at different levels go through.
Through all those experiences, Blashill feels there are specific challenges to every level but the core of coaching hockey remains the same.
"What I say to people is coaching is coaching, the principles of coaching are the same," Blashill said. "There are different challenges. You have unique challenges coaching high school, my brother coaches high school. I have challenges he doesn't have, and vice versa, but the principles of coaching and people management and how you apply it, to me, they're the same."
Today's players, said Blashill, aren't much different from other decades or eras. The key is getting the best out of them, which the mentorship program attempts to help with.
"There's a bit of a change in human behavior in every generation, but that doesn't mean it makes it harder or easier to manage people," Blashill said. "It's just different. Younger people growing up today certainly have different challenges, some of them greater challenges, than we had. So it's a matter, again, of trying to find ways to connect with younger people, to connect with people you manage and get them to become the very best version of themselves.
"That, to me, is the art of managing and coaching."
Waiting to return
Blashill hears the speculation regarding the different scenarios of resuming the paused NHL season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But until something becomes definite, Blashill is going to stay away from conjecture and analyzing a return.
"Right now the NHL is still waiting to determine what the best solution is to come back," Blashill said. "That answer can't be answered until we have a clear picture of health in the world, in the United States."
Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week many different scenarios are being considered, including one where the season could be concluded in four cities. Each city would host an NHL division, with those teams playing games and finishing the approximately 10 games left in the regular season. The Red Wings have 11 games left on their schedule.
Teams reaching the playoffs would then begin a full four-round quest for the Stanley Cup.
"So many plans are being talked about right now, but we don't know what it (the format upon returning) is going to look like," Blashill said. "Honestly, I'm being patient, and I'm going to wait and see what it's going to look like."