Griffins Get Their Man (Again)...
By Jason Kasiorek
June 19th, 2015
The Grand Rapids Griffins announced today that Todd Nelson would become the 10th coach in franchise history, taking over the reins from Jeff Blashill who was recently promoted to the parent Detroit Red Wings. Nelson has the distinction of being the first player signed by Grand Rapids prior to the team's 1996 debut season. The Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native had most recently been with the Edmonton Oilers as a mid-season replacement for Dallas Eakins. He was asked to stay on with the club as an assistant after the hiring of former wings assistant Todd McLellan as the new head coach earlier this summer, but he chose to return to his roots. Upon being introduced his first remark was to say it was "good to be back home".
The Wings set their sights on him when Mike Babcock's departure created an organizational opening, but were denied permission by the Oilers to speak to him. Persistence paid off however as they circled back a second time a few weeks later and were given the green light. Detroit assistant General Manager Ryan Martin said that great coaches have certain qualities, key among them are the ability to understand and teach the game, the ability to relate to today's players, and that they know how to win. Martin also shared that Nelson had "elite technical skill" when it comes to hockey. When the Griffins won the Calder cup, Blashill was asked who the hardest coach he went up against was and he said no question it was Nelson. During the interview process it became apparent one of Nelson's key strengths was developing relationships with players. They want to play for him and win with him.
Winning is something that Nelson has had his share of in his career. As a player he won the 1994 Calder cup as a member of the Portland Pirates. He added a second as an assistant coach with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. As the head coach of the Muskegon Fury (UHL) he won 2 Colonial Cup Championships (2004, and 2005) while compiling a 149-58-25 regular season record. Nelson also served as head coach of the Oklahoma City Barons from 2010-2015 with a 176-11-46 record and a pair of Conference Final appearances.
As a player, the smooth-skating defenseman played three full seasons and part of a fourth with the Griffins before retiring in 2002 and joining the coaching staff under Danton Cole as an assistant. In 236 games in a Griffins uniform, Nelson posted 11 goals, 56 assists, 67 points and a +53 rating. In his playing career Nelson logged over 900 pro games in the AHL, IHL, NHL, UHL and Europe, scoring nearly 400 points.