Being affiliated with the Detroit Red Wings has turned out nicely for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Detroits top minor league club has a roster filled with premiere Red Wings prospects, an up and coming coaching staff led by head coach, Jeff Blashill, along with assistants, Jim Paek and Spiros Anastas, plus, a few "special assistants" with the last names of Chelios, Osgood, Draper and Fischer.
At any given Griffins practice, youre likely to see at least one former Red Wings star on the ice instructing Detroits future. On Thursday, it was Chris Chelios and Chris Osgood, as the Griffins were preparing for Game Four of the Calder Cup Finals the AHLs championship with Grand Rapids holding a 3-0 lead over Syracuse.
To be part of the Red Wing organization is a special thing, Blashill said. Theyve been the best-run sports team over the last twenty years. Theyre an Original Six franchise and I think our players realize just how special this really is.
Our guys just dont want to play in the NHL, they want to play for the Detroit Red Wings and thats a great thing.
Blashill added that the Wings are a treasure trove of information.
When you add the experience of Cheli, Ozzie, Drapes, Jiri Fischer, Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Mike Babcock and Ryan Martin, its been great, said Blashill. I can lean on them in different situations. Im the type of person in a leadership role where I ask for a lot of opinions and then I make a decision.
Ive asked all those guys for their opinions at different times this year.
For Chelios and Osgood, the transition from player to coach has been an ongoing adjustment.
Im basically here learning how to coach, Chelios said. I dont have a whole lot of input as far as the games, but its been good on the ice talking to kids if they do have some trouble, if you see them struggling or not even getting the opportunity because of the numbers, thats when (my input) comes into play.
When Im asked my opinion, I give it. Ive played long enough that when youre watching up in the press box, it's a whole different game as to standing behind the bench coaching.
Chelios would like to coach too someday, but hes at least a year away from committing to the profession full-time. With a daughter playing college lacrosse and two sons being seniors next year on Michigan States hockey team, he wants the freedom to watch his children compete.
Even though Chelios is not in Grand Rapids on a daily basis, he has had a positive influence on the Griffins.
Anytime you have guys like Chelios and Ozzie out there, that have played in the NHL and won multiple Stanley Cups, it's pretty awesome, Griffins defenseman Danny DeKeyser said.
They demand attention, youre going to listen to what they have to say. When they pull you aside to offer advice, you just soak it in and do what they say.
Osgood has been a fixture in Grand Rapids this season working with the Griffins goalies. Hes more comfortable in his role this year as opposed to last year where his learning curve was more about adapting to a coaching mindset instead of a players.
From a players side, things that used to anger you or you thought were right when you played arent the case when you find out what its like being a coach, Osgood said. There are a lot of tough decisions. Theres a lot more work that goes into it than you ever imagined as a player.
Coaches actually like the players. Sometimes you (players) think they dont, but they do. They want to see them do well.
This year Osgood has branched out to get a better understanding of the entire game and how to deal with the different personalities that a coach encounters on a team.
Everybody is a little different, Osgood said. Everybody has their own way as to how they want to be coached. You have to learn the different ways to push buttons to make a player successful.
An ongoing evolution for Chelios and Osgood has contributed to the Griffins being one game away from winning the Calder Cup.
Competitiveness and passion for the game still burn in Chelios and Osgood, so its not difficult to see why theyve gravitated toward coaching.
But, perhaps the main reason is best summed up by Osgood.
Its as close to playing as you can get, without playing.