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MORE THAN HOCKEY

July 30, 2012

by Peter J. Wallner - Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Jeff Blashill stood at the podium, smiled and tried to embrace perhaps the greatest day of his young career when he was introduced last month as the new coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins.

But he had more on his mind than hockey.

Blashill, a 38-year-old father of three, was also thinking about his youngest son, Owen.

The 2-year-old was about to undergo surgery to repair a hole in his heart, an event planned well before Blashill ever expected to become the Griffins coach after one season with the Detroit Red Wings. As it was, the surgery was moved back a week.

“There was some stress, some unknown that goes along with it,” he said. “But when you go through something like this, you’re very thankful to be part of an organization that has the perspective that family comes first.”

Blashill, during his June 28 introduction, spoke of the family-orientated atmosphere of the Detroit organization, and thanked his family – wife Erica, Owen and other children Teddy, who’s 6 and Josie, who’s 4 – for their understanding.

“Without their total commitment to hockey and to this lifestyle, I certainly wouldn’t be standing here today,” he said.

A week later, on July, 5, Owen was operated on at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, he returned five days later for additional surgery following complications, Blashill said. The coach missed the Griffins development camp with the Red Wings in Traverse City.

Now, the healing has begun.

“We’ve very, very thankful that the doctors did a great job,” Blashill said. “Really, Owen’s doing great in his recovery right now."

Blashill considers himself and his family fortunate.

“When you go through something like this, you gain great perspective,” he said. “Owen ultimately is healthy and is going to be healthy for a very long time. And I know there are other children that aren’t as fortunate, and some that we’re very good friends with.

“There are tougher battles out there, and we’re very thankful we had a battle we could fight.”

The Blashills have purchased a home in East Grand Rapids and expect to relocate by mid-August. It will be the fourth move for the family, prompted by a succession of positions for Blashill – assistant coach with the Red Wings (2011-12) head coach at Western Michigan in 2010-11 and head coach of the United States Hockey League’s Indiana Ice (2008-10).

The Griffins open their prospects camp Sept. 17 in Traverse City, ahead of the start of the season in early October. Twenty-nine players with Griffins playing experience will be among the 66 Detroit Red Wings stars, prospects and invitees at the camp.

“Right now, we’re all looking forward to getting settled, and we’re excited about what’s ahead,” Blashill said.



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