Entering his second season as the captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League (AHL), a lot of people would be forgiven if they thought defenseman Brian Lashoff was a bit older than his 31 years of age.
“I think a lot of people might think I’m a little older for the amount of games I’ve played here,” Lashoff said following his 500th game with the Griffins back in 2020.
Lashoff’s name has floated around the state of Michigan since 2008 when the Detroit Red Wings signed him to an entry-level contract following training camp. He was an undrafted camp invite that flashed the same simple, defensive game that he is well known for today. After earning that contract, he was returned to the Ontario Hockey League, where he would become the captain of the Kingston Frontenacs after a trade from the Barrie Colts. It turns out that year was a sign of things to come in more ways than one.
In the Spring of 2009, Lashoff made his professional hockey debut to the tune of six games with the Griffins. To put that into perspective, here’s what was going on around that time:
- Curt Fraser was the head coach of the Griffins.
- Mike Babcock was getting ready to lead the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings to their second Stanley Cup Final in a row.
- Ken Holland was the general manager of the Red Wings.
- Bob McNamara was the GM of the Griffins.
- Current Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill was about to lead the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League to a Clark Cup championship.
- Current Griffins head coach Ben Simon was playing hockey over in Germany.
- Joe Biden was in the beginning of his first year as the Vice President of the United States.
- Simon Edvinsson – the Red Wings’ top pick in the 2021 Entry Draft – was just six years old.
- Suggesting putting a hockey team in Las Vegas would have come off as a joke.
- Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year; Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender that season.
- The writer of this article was in the midst of his first year of high school.
It wasn’t until the following season that he began his professional career in earnest, as he played 37 games with the Griffins (as well as three games for the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL). He was a 20-year-old kid then, and yet you could already see where he excelled as a player and where he struggled. With just three points in the AHL that season, it was a safe bet at that point that he wasn’t going to develop into a real point producer on the blue line. Even when his offense finally “popped” the following season, he still managed just 19 points through 76 games in the AHL.
Then came the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. That was the season in which Lashoff made his NHL debut with the Red Wings, and he made his debut count in a big way. On January 21 in a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game while receiving a respectable 18:18 in ice-time. While he would not score again that season (and only collect another four points over the course of 30 more games) he had firmly entrenched himself as a member of the Red Wings’ organization.
Lashoff was the quintessential “seventh defenseman” for the Red Wings after making his debut. As he traced the fine line between the NHL and the AHL, he didn’t light up the score sheet, and his defensive play, while solid, wasn’t going to earn him any big-money contracts that are often awarded to top-tier shutdown defensemen. If there was a hole on the blue line in Detroit, he was a safe bet to plug the hole and do minimum damage to his team while filling in for an injured body. In fact, his career Corsi-For percentage (49%) perfectly illustrates a player that was essentially a zero-sum player at the NHL level.
Lashoff Becomes A Leader
During his time with the Red Wings, Lashoff’s teammates included players like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Niklas Kronwall, well-respected leaders in their own right not just by the Red Wings and their fans, but by fans across the entire NHL. Working alongside top-tier players and leaders like that is bound to rub off on you, and Lashoff certainly is no exception.
But that does not mention the impact that Jeff Hoggan (captain of the Griffins from 2012 to 2016) and Nathan Paetsch (captain during the 2016-17 season) had on Lashoff as well. After all, these are the only two captains in team history to lead the team to a Calder Cup championship, with Lashoff being one of the alternate captains for both men from 2015 to 2017. So great was the impact that Hoggan had on Lashoff that the defenseman was the one to deliver the news to Hoggan that his number 10 is going to be retired by the franchise in April of 2022.
“I can’t say enough good things about you as a leader,” Lashoff said. “We shared a lot of great memories together. We won a championship together. The culture that you established in Grand Rapids was one that I think you would be happy to know is one that stands today, and it’s a big reason for the success that we’ve had as an organization.”
As one of just three players to celebrate both the Griffins’ 2013 and 2017 Calder Cup championships (the other two are Paetsch and Mitch Callahan), Lashoff brings that championship pedigree to his role as the Griffins’ current captain.
“Brian has been an integral part of the success and culture that has been established in Grand Rapids, and we are excited and look forward to his continued positive impact on our organization and community as captain of the Griffins,” said head coach Ben Simon during the announcement that Lashoff was named the team’s 14th full-time captain in team history.
With the likes of Donovan Sebrango (63rd overall, 2020) and Jared McIsaac (36th overall, 2018) patrolling the blue line for the Griffins this season, there may not be a better mentor for them on the ice and in the locker room than a guy who has had to earn every single opportunity he’s been given.
“(Lashoff) has been a young guy coming into the league, a young guy fighting to stay in the league and now he’s a vet helping some of our younger guys develop into future NHL players. I think he takes that responsibility really seriously and I think he’s really good at it,” said coach Simon.
That’s why Lashoff still plays big minutes for the Griffins at 31 years old, and it’s why he’s entering his second season wearing the ‘C’ on his sweater.
Lashoff is Here to Stay
When the Detroit Red Wings acquired a fourth round pick in the 2021 draft from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for taking on some of defenseman David Savard’s cap-hit, a little wrinkle in the deal saw Lashoff’s rights traded to the Lightning as well. However, Tampa Bay did not have him report to the Syracuse Crunch, their AHL affiliate. Instead, Lashoff remained with the Griffins, keeping the team’s captain in maybe the only city that can call him a household name.
“It’s been awesome, I love playing for these guys, love playing in Grand Rapids,” said Lashoff. “Anything that I can do to help. I’ve had a great relationship with the staff here and the players in Grand Rapids, where I’ve been fortunate we’ve had some real good teams and we win.” (From “Brian Lashoff continues to thrive for Red Wings in key organizational role”, The Detroit News, 1/10/20)
We can speculate as to why exactly the Lightning kept the veteran defenseman in Grand Rapids, but this writer chooses to believe that they saw what many in west Michigan see: separating Lashoff from Grand Rapids would be like separating Disney World from Orlando. So even though it may seem like he has been around for decades at this point, just know that No. 18 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“I love playing in this city and I love winning in this city. It’s been like a second home for me, and now my wife,” he said. “So, I’ll play until they tell me I can’t. That’s the mindset I’ll have.”
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.