Former NHL winger Mike Blaisdell was the most successful club coach of the 1990s and 2000s, winning 12 trophies at the top level with three different teams, and another three as a player on a fourth. The dozen include Sheffield Steelers’ memorable Grand Slam of four titles in 2000-01.
A hard-nosed six-footer from the Canadian prairies, ‘Blaiser’ plugged his way through over 300 NHL games with Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, and toured Europe with Team Canada before coming to England in the middle of the 1990-91 season to join Durham Wasps.
During his two calendar years on the Paul Smith-coached side, he struck up a productive partnership with his fellow countryman Rick Brebant and the Wasps won the Heineken British League and Championships twice, and a Norwich Union Cup. “He has excellent vision,” said Smith. “He settled straight into the first line and knew jut where he should be.” But when Durham had a slow start to the 1992-93 campaign, club owner Tom Smith – father of the coach – was quick to fire him.
Nottingham Panthers gave him his first job as non-playing coach in 1993-94, a season so marred by financial crises that the Panthers were relieved when their new man got them through to the semi-finals of the British Championships. After recruiting Brebant and retaining the high scoring Paul Adey, Blaisdell guided Panthers to the Benson and Hedges Cup the following term and won his first Coach of the Year trophy.
Taking his full turn on the ice again during the 1995-96 season, he scored his age in goals, 35, and the Panthers went all the way to the Wembley final – only to succumb sickeningly after a penalty shootout against their deadly rivals Steelers, despite ‘Blaiser’ netting Nottingham’s only successful shot.
The tumultuous Superleague era was his finest. The Panthers won two more B&H Cups and reached another Play-off final before Mike tired of the club’s money woes and quit early in the 1999-2000 campaign. His four years at neighbouring Sheffield were a huge success as he signed the exciting young Brit David Longstaff in 2000 and the team won eight trophies, overcoming some unsettling ownership changes.
He won his second Coach of the Year award for Steelers’ Grand Slam and a third two years later for their league and cup double. In 2003-04 Sheffield won the first Elite League and the Play-offs, and took the arch enemy Panthers to overtime before bowing out of the Challenge Cup final. This was more than enough to earn the master motivator and shrewd judge of talent his fourth Coach of the Year title.
Michael Walter Blaisdell was born on 18 January 1960 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.