Ben Simon says getting called up to coach the Detroit Red Wings was a much different feeling than when he was first summoned to play in the NHL.
“It’s different because you’re not expecting it,” explained Simon, coach of Detroit’s top farm club the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins. “That’s not your goal here. Your goal is to always make it to the highest level, but as a coach you’re really worried about your group and improving your group on a daily basis.”
The group Simon was worrying about suddenly became the Red Wings on Saturday after he received word that the NHL was placing Detroit coach Jeff Blashill in COVID-19 protocol.
While this call up was feeling much different than his November 10, 2001 NHL debut as a player with the Atlanta Thrashers, that didn’t mean Simon wasn’t feeling the thrill of the opportunity.
“There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of moving pieces, a little bit of everything – a little anxiety, a little panic, a little excitement,” Simon admitted. “It’s kind of cool. At the end of the day, not a lot of guys can say they stepped behind an NHL bench.
“For me, whether that was one game or turns into a thousand games over the course of my life, it was a great experience and to do it for Detroit was pretty cool.”
Simon Engineers Winning Debut
While Simon was handling the bench, Detroit assistant coach Doug Houda took on his usual role running the defense. GR assistant coach Todd Krygier was also summoned to run the forwards. He was replacing Detroit assistant Alex Tanguay, also placed in COVID-19 protocol.
The Red Wings beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2. Simon gave much of the credit for their success to Blashill and his staff. They all were working jointly on the game prep.
UPDATE: The Red Wings on Saturday announced that Griffins head coach Ben Simon and assistant coach Todd Krygier will serve as coaches alongside Red Wings assistant Doug Houda for Detroit’s home game against the New Jersey Devils tonight. #GoGRG
— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) December 18, 2021
“Jeff Blashill, two of his biggest strengths are his communication skills and his preparation,” Simon said. “He was prepared, he was there through Zoom, through phone calls throughout the day.
“Doug Houda was in charge of the meetings, and he’s been around that team for a much longer time. There was a lot of communication and preparation that went into it.”
At the same time, hockey isn’t a static game. They were also requiring the ability to make adjustments on the go in order to engineer a successful outcome.
“It was a little bit of fly by the seat of our pants,” Simon admitted. “Things happen during the game you have to adjust to and kind of roll with the punches.
“Jeff had his game plan and we tried our best to implement what he was looking for. A lot of the success that night was because of the preparation behind the scenes by Jeff and his staff.”
A Memory To Savor
With the Red Wings shut down until after the Christmas break, Simon isn’t certain what the future will be holding for him. He and Krygier have since returned to Grand Rapids. Also reassigned to the AHL were the players who got the call to fill in for COVID-idled Red Wings. Defenseman Dan Renouf, goalie Calvin Pickard and forwards Taro Hirose, Kyle Criscuolo and Riley Barber are also back in GR.
“I knew going up, it wouldn’t be a very long term,” Simon said. “If it never turns out to be anything again, it was a great opportunity.
“There are moments in your career you kind of take a step back and are way more appreciative of. The anthem is going, you’re standing in front of a great building. The energy in the building was fantastic. You take a moment and (think) ‘this is pretty cool.’
“I was treated like a king for a few days. It was just a great experience.”