BRANDON — Jeff Blashill’s respect for Lightning coach Jon Cooper goes back farther than the team’s recent success, which includes three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup final and two championships.
For two decades, Blashill and Cooper have run in the same circles. Around 2000, the pair met in Michigan while Cooper coached at Lansing Catholic High School — his first coaching job — and Blashill was an assistant at Ferris State University.
In the 20-plus years since, the two have coached against each other across multiple levels. And now, after Detroit hired former Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde at the end of June, they’re finally in the same circle as Blashill joins Cooper’s coaching staff as an assistant.
“As I kind of went through this (interview) process, I was hoping to get to a spot where there was an opportunity to grow and learn, and I know that is the case here,” Blashill said. “I wanted to get to a spot where we get an opportunity to win on a nightly basis, and obviously this group has proven that.”
Blashill and his family — wife Erica, and children Teddy, Josie and Owen — expect a quick transition to Tampa, especially with school starting in early August.
Blashill, 48, coached in Detroit from 2015-16 to 2021-22. At the end of the regular season, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, who led Tampa Bay’s front office until 2018, did not renew his contract. Detroit has missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons.
Blashill recently spent a month in Finland as an assistant for the men’s USA hockey team in the world championships. When he returned home in early June — following the team’s fourth-place finish — he worked through some “different leads” and ultimately re-connected with Cooper.
“Coop felt that there was a potential of him potentially losing an assistant coach,” Blashill said. “...Once he found out Derek was headed for Detroit, we had, obviously, more detailed conversations and in the end, kind of came to the conclusion that this was the right move for the both of us, and I’m certainly excited about it and I believe he is as well.”
The Lightning’s assistant coaching staff now includes: Blashill, Rob Zettler, Jeff Halpern, goaltending coach Frantz Jean and video coaches Nigel Kirwan and Brian Garlock.
Before joining the Red Wings as their head coach, Blashill spent three seasons with the AHL’s Grand Rapids, winning the Calder Cup championship with the Griffins in his first year as head coach in 2012-13. In 2011-12, he served as an assistant on Detroit’s staff.
Blashill feels he can contribute to the development of Tampa Bay’s roster. Coaching responsibilities, such as if he’ll oversee the penalty kill like Lalonde did, are still to be determined.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Derek Lalonde and so I know that his loss will be felt and I have to make sure that I can help bring value to the organization and bring value to the team,” Blashill said.
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“And ultimately, I think players, they want to know that their coaching staff’s prepared, and the players want to know that you’re going to help them be the very best player they can be, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help each guy ... and everything I can to help Coop and the rest of his coaching staff be as good as we can be.”
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