At the end of last season, retiring as a player was an easy decision for Brian Lashoff.
“I knew my body had gone through a lot the last couple of years, injury-wise,” he said, “and there was a lot of wear and tear from a lot of long seasons and playoff runs.”
Lashoff, a defenseman who spent 14 seasons in Grand Rapids, the last three as captain, decided to listen to his body and retired.
But the player who once was traded by the Red Wings to Tampa Bay but stayed in Grand Rapids will be with the Griffins again this winter — as an assistant coach.
Still, the decision was not an easy one. Lashoff signed with the Red Wings after his junior career ended and, for the most part, never left Grand Rapids. Every minor league team needs the wise veteran leader — someone like the catcher Crash Davis in the movie Bull Durham — who can tutor youngsters about how to be a professional athlete.
Lashoff was that veteran in Grand Rapids.
“Some of my best memories are playing with this team,” he said, “but, day to day, it got harder to play at the level I wanted to.”
When young players talk about playing in Grand Rapids, they always seem to mention Lashoff’s influence.
“I’ve talked to Lash a lot,” Red Wings prospect Jared McIsaac said. “He’s been around a long time, and he’s seen it all. I do not hesitate to ask questions of him and he’s been really good to me.”
Filip Hronek said he learned a lot from Lashoff. “(He) helped me with my D zone coverage,” Hronek said.
A new role
And so, instead of working to get ready for another season on the ice, Lashoff is preparing for his first season behind the bench.
His job will be to help bolster a defense that was 30th in the American Hockey League in scoring last season. He will work with Stephane Julien, who joins the Griffins after a long stint as the coach and general manager of Sherbrooke of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I think bringing in a guy like Stephane is going to be huge,” Lashoff said. “Not only for the guys in the room. but for me as well. I’m lucky to have a guy like him and (new head coach) Dan Watson to learn from.
“It’s a fresh start for a lot of the guys in the room,” he added. “Everyone wants to make a good impression on the coaching staff, and I think the coaching staff is no different. I think we have a staff that is ready to tackle this head-on and put this team in a position to get back to our winning ways of the past.”
Lashoff is familiar with those winning ways, having won two Calder Caps (2013, 2017) in Grand Rapids and playing 132 games over seven seasons in Detroit.
A smooth transition
As a captain, Lashoff was a leader on and off the ice.
“I’ll be doing a lot of things I did as a player,” Lashoff said. “Teaching is going to be my main job these days, but I want to help these guys develop, even the older guys. They want to get better, too, so you want to give them the best opportunity to get better and win as a team.”
Lashoff’s summer has been spent working with his new teammates in the coaches’ office, learning how to operate the video equipment and the other tasks assistants do, and keeping his focus on what’s ahead.
“I want to do well at this, as opposed to being half-in,” he said. “I wanted to be all-in and help as much as I can.”
That includes a firm declaration that his playing days are over, despite being just 32 years old.
“If we’re going to need me to strap on the boots, we’re going to be in trouble,” he said, chuckling.