Ben Simon cherishes ‘great experience’ of coaching Red Wings to victory

Detroit News

Detroit — When Ben Simon received the call from Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman, there were a lot of different emotions racing through him.

Coach Jeff Blashill had just been put on the COVID protocol list and wouldn’t be able to coach Saturday against New Jersey.

So, Yzerman was bringing up Simon, the Grand Rapids Griffins head coach and Simon’s assistant Todd Krygier to fill out the staff. Wings assistant Alex Tanguay was also on the protocol list.

“There’s a lot going on, a lot of moving pieces,” Simon said Monday during a Zoom call with media. “A little anxiety, panic, excitement. I knew going up it wouldn’t be a very long, and knowing how prepared the people in Detroit are, they’re great people, it was going to be a great experience, regardless.”

Saturday proved to be a memorable experience for Simon, as he coached the Wings to a 5-2 victory.

The Wings were minus six players to protocol, and Blashill and Tanguay were unavailable, but with Dylan Larkin scoring three goals, Tyler Bertuzzi two goals, and goaltender Thomas Greiss making 32 saves, the Wings found a way to win.

And for Simon, it was an evening he will not soon forget.

“It’s a little different because you’re not expecting it,” Simon said of the call up to the NHL, under whatever circumstances, for a coach. “That’s not your goal here. Your goal is to make it to the highest level, but as a coach, you’re really worried about your group and how you’re improving your group on a daily basis.

“When you get the call it’s not expected. But again, it was what it was, you get a little excited and it’s kind of cool. Not a lot of guys can say they’ve sat behind an NHL bench and whether it’s one game for me, or it turns into thousands of games over the course of my life, it was a great experience and to do it for Detroit was pretty cool.”

More: COVID issues force Red Wings to shut down through at least Dec. 26

Simon praised the work of Wings assistant coach Doug Houda, who normally handles the defense, and was integral Saturday in keeping everything smooth. Krygier, who normally handles the forwards in Grand Rapids, essentially replaced Tanguay while Simon handled Blashill’s role.

Blashill was in regular communication with Simon throughout the day, relaying preferred match-up possibilities and whatever else Blashill saw during periods.

“Jeff Blashill’s biggest strengths and qualities are his communication skills and his preparation,” Simon said. “He was prepared. He was there through Zoom and phone calls throughout the day, Doug Houda was in charge of meetings, he’s been around that team for a much longer time than me.

“We talked in between periods, before and after the game, and again, Jeff is ultra prepared and detailed and he made it very easy to go in there and help contribute.”

Yzerman met with Simon briefly — and gave a typical Yzerman note of encouragement.

“He said don’t mess it up,” Simon said, laughing. “He was great. He said we’re missing a lot of players and coaches, so go out there have fun and do this to the best of your ability.”

Larkin, the team captain, presented Simon, Houda and Krygier with game pucks after the game.

“Larks was great; he’s fantastic, there’s a reason he’s wearing that (captain) letter on this jersey,” Simon said. “He was very complimentary of Houds, and myself and Krygs, and they gave each of us a puck, which is great, and it was fun to be part of.”

The one major difference Simon noticed from coaching in the NHL vs. the American League (AHL) was the attention focused on line matchups.

“You don’t have a guy like (New Jersey goal scorer) Jack Hughes on the team from an American League team,” Simon said. “You want to develop, you want your younger guys that aren’t the greatest defenders to have some big experiences, maybe a defensive zone faceoff that these kids have to learn to be in those situations.

“But the NHL is a win-now league, so there’s no time to really have any hiccups, because they’ll end up in the back of your net. So, you find the best matchup possible, and being at home, it was a little easier.”

Simon was sure to soak in the atmosphere and moment as much as he could.

“There are moments in your career you step back and appreciate, and this is one of those,” Simon said. “The anthem is going and you’re standing in a great building and the energy in that building was fantastic, and you take a moment there and think ‘this is pretty cool’.

“Absolutely you don’t take it for granted when you’re there. It’s going to be short lived, Jeff will be back soon, but I was treated like a king for a few days and it was just a great experience.

“It’s a class, class organization.”

No. 1 star

Speaking of Larkin, he was named the NHL’s First Star of the week.

Larkin, Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis, second star) and Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg, third star) were highlighted for their performances.

Larkin led the NHL with five goals and seven points in three games last week, leading the Wings to two of three victories (2-1-0).

Larkin capped the week the three-goal, four-point night Saturday — it was his first NHL hat trick -— while the Wings’ lineup was decimated because of COVID issues.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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