The Ferris State University men’s ice hockey program has had plenty
of success in recent memory. For at least two Bulldog alums, that
success carried over into their professional careers this past season.
First-year head coach Jeff Blashill of the American Hockey League’s
Grand Rapids Griffins guided his squad to the first Calder Cup title in
the 17-year history of the franchise by beating the Syracuse Crunch
in the title round in June. His championship team included former
Bulldog captain and rookie defenseman Chad Billins, who was in his
first full year with the Griffins and played in all 100 contests.
Together, they celebrated the culmination of 100 games’ worth
of work with a Detroit Red Wings farm team’s first title since the
Adirondack Red Wings captured the Cup in 1982. It was the first-ever
championship in nearly 30 seasons of professional hockey in Grand
Rapids and came in the longest AHL season ever.
“It was a great moment and great for our players with the amount
of sacrifice and effort they put into it,” said Blashill, a former Bulldog
student-athlete and assistant coach. “To see the joy they had when
we won it was a great feeling. It was the first hockey championship
in Grand Rapids history, and it was a really cool feeling to be able to
bring it back to the city, our ownership and West Michigan.”
Billins helped set the tone with an assist on the first goal of the title
series and finished the Calder Cup Playoffs with a pair of goals and
12 assists for 14 total points along with a +5 plus/minus efficiency
rating. The Grand Rapids rookie led all AHL defenseman in playoff
scoring this season. During regular-season action, Billins totaled 37
points on 10 goals and a team second-best 27 assists in 76 contests.
He placed sixth among the team’s scoring leaders while recording
seven power-play goals.
“It was exciting,” Billins said. “It was a tremendous way to end my first
professional season by winning the Calder Cup. It was special.”
Blashill guided the Griffins to their first Calder Cup after being appointed
the teams’ ninth head coach in Griffins history last summer. He moved
to Grand Rapids after serving as an assistant coach for the parent
Detroit Red Wings in 2011-12, when he helped the team to its 12th
consecutive 100-point season and 21st consecutive postseason
appearance. Prior to joining the organization, he served as the head
coach of the Western Michigan Broncos in 2010-11, earning several
national coach of the year honors.
Bulldog Alumni Blashill and Billins
are Calder Cup Champions
By Rob Bentley, Assistant Athletic Director
“Jeff’s a really great coach,” Billins said. “He was the guy that pushed us
all year, and he’s definitely a big reason why we won the whole thing.”
Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Blashill has
rapidly ascended hockey’s coaching ladder, joining his fourth team
in four seasons which was capped with yet another championship
effort in his distinguished career. He began his head coaching career
with the United States Hockey League’s Indiana Ice in 2008-09,
capturing a franchise-record 39 wins and a Clark Cup championship.
He compiled a 72-43-5 mark in two seasons as the Ice’s head coach
and general manager before departing for Western Michigan in 2010.
While in Kalamazoo, Blashill led the Broncos to a 19-13-10 record,
doubling the team’s win total from the previous season and leading
the team to its best conference finish (4th) since 1995-96. Additionally,
the Broncos played in the CCHA championship game for the first
time since 1986 and earned their first National Collegiate Atheltic
Association Tournament berth since 1996. Blashill was named a
finalist for Central Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year
and was named National Coach of the Year by College Hockey News,
Inside College Hockey and USCHO.com.