By Max Bultman (The Athletic)

TAMPA — For being the world’s biggest hockey league, the NHL can be an awfully small world. Once upon a time, back in 2001-02, a then-28-year-old Jeff Blashill left his job as an assistant coach at Ferris State University to take a job at Miami University (Ohio) — the latest step in a career that would quickly propel him to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

The man who took his place, back then, was another up-and-comer from Division III Hamilton college by the name of Derek Lalonde. Blashill’s brother, Tim, was a volunteer assistant at Ferris State, so when Blashill would come back to see his brother, he naturally developed a friendship with Lalonde as well.

Being college assistants at the same time, they would see each other out on the road. Lalonde called Blashill “a guy I would lean on” in those formative years of their respective coaching careers. He suspects Blashill may have had a hand in endorsing him to be hired with the Toledo Walleye back in 2014-15 — when Blashill was the AHL head coach in the Red Wings organization, and the team tapped Lalonde to helm their ECHL affiliate.

You can imagine the potential awkwardness, then, when after the Red Wings moved on from Blashill as their head coach after seven seasons — and 11 total in the organization — this past summer, they hired Lalonde to fill the position.

After a four-season run as an assistant coach in Tampa Bay — a span that included two Stanley Cup titles and an astonishing 11 consecutive playoff series victories — Lalonde’s name was thrown around in head coaching conversations, and he did have a sense that some kind of opportunity might be looming. At the least, he thought he’d get the chance to interview somewhere.

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