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POSTED ON Thursday, 12.15.2011 / 12:24 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Ian White played for the first time without a full-face shield this week since suffering a fractured cheekbone last month. (Photo by Getty Images)
Missing the Red Wings’ four-game road swing through California last month was difficult enough, but wearing a full-face shield for nine games after that ran a close second for defenseman Ian White.

“Doctors told me to wear it for four weeks,” White told DetroitRedWings.com this week. “Just didn’t want to do anymore damage to the cheek in case I was hit.”

White had the clear plastic shield removed from his helmet on Monday. He wore it – per doctors’ orders – to protect his fractured right cheekbone, which he sustained Nov. 23 when he stopped a shot by Dallas Stars leading point-producer Jamie Benn.

The shield couldn’t have been too much of a hindrance for White, who had a goal with five assists and a plus-9 rating while wearing it. But it was still a liberating feeling to skate without it, he said.

“The bars down the sides limited my peripheral vision a bit, and it was difficult at times to see the puck if I lost it at my feet,” he said. “I’m just glad to be done with it.”

The Wings’ 4-1 win Tuesday in Pittsburgh was the first game that White has played without the shield since returning to action on Thanksgiving Eve against Calgary. 

Meanwhile, another veteran defenseman began tinkering with a tinted visor this week. On the same day that White dropped his facial protection, Mike Commodore put a visor on his helmet for the first time in more than four years.

“I’m just trying it in practice. I always wondered what a tinted visor was like, so I figured it was time and I fired it on,” said Commodore, who last wore a visor in the 2007 World Championships in Moscow. “It’s actually pretty good.  I’ve worn visors before, I had to wear one my whole first year after I took a slap shot in the eye in my ninth game pro.”
Mike Commodore last wore a visor during the 2007 World Championships in Moscow, Russia (Photo by Getty Images)

The injury that resulted from the hit nearly finished Commodore’s career before it really began. It was late in October, 2000, and Commodore, who was a promising young New Jersey prospect playing in his first month with the now-defunct Albany River Rats, was struck in the face by a puck.

Luckily for him, the orbital bone surrounding Commodore’s right eye absorbed the slap shot from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Andrew Ference. Despite needing some plastic surgery, Commodore managed to play in 52 more games that season between the NHL and AHL.
 
“I remember it being more of a pain than this one,” said Commodore, comparing his current visor to the one he wore some 11 years ago. “This one isn’t actually that bad at all.”

With so many of his Red Wings’ teammates already having suffered head and/or facial injuries this season it would be easy to understand Commodore’s desire to don a visor for the third time in his career.

But he said that the injuries to White, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler, Drew Miller and Niklas Kronwall had nothing to do with his decision.
 
“I’m just trying something. I have lots of practice time and I’m trying something new, that’s all,” Commodore said. “If someone hit me in a game, it might carve up my nose a little bit, but you can fix your nose, not your eyes.”

As for the gray tinting, Commodore explained it this way, “I don’t know, if I’m going to try a visor I might as well go all the way. I always wondered what it was like to play with one of the tinted ones. Looking at those guys I was wondering if they could see, obviously they can, but I just wanted to give it a try.”


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POSTED ON Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 8:58 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

For the first time in more than a month, an opponent scored an even-strength goal against the Red Wings in the first period of a game.

Winnipeg center Bryan Little needed just 35-seconds at the start of Saturday’s game to score his 10th goal of the season, and put a halt to the Wings’ impressive streak.

It was the first time that the Wings surrendered a first-period goal in 10 games – dating to Mike Richards’ short-hander in Los Angeles on Nov. 19 – and the first even-strength tally in 17 games, going back to when Lee Stempniak gave the Calgary Flames a 1-0 lead on Nov. 3.

The Wings have allowed a league-low 13 first-period goals through 28 games. The New York Rangers are second with 15 goals in 26 games.

For the Jets, Little’s goal gave Winnipeg 34 first-period markers, which is second-most in the NHL, just one behind the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Wings’ first-periods performances is a remarkable turnaround from last season when they were among the worst defensive teams in the first period, giving up 84 goals in the opening 20-minutes – trailing just Columbus (86) and Colorado (91).

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POSTED ON Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 12:25 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Darren Helm is excited for the chance to play in front of his hometown family and friends next season in Winnipeg.
As a young boy growing up in Winnipeg, Darren Helm fondly remembers the ‘White Outs’ and the chants of “Go Jets, Go!” inside Winnipeg Arena on Maroons Road.

He was just nine-years-old when the Jets last played there, then moved south to Phoenix after the Red Wings eliminated them in the first round of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Jets moved from Atlanta this season, and Saturday night the Winnipeg Jets return to Joe Louis Arena for its first regular-season game in Detroit since April 10, 1996.

And of course, Helm, who used to attend Jets’ home games with his youth teams, and sold 50/50 raffle tickets on the arena concourse with teammates and parents, is excited for the chance to soon play before family and friends back home.

With realignment set to begin next season, the Jets and Wings will be in the same eight-team conference, meaning that they will face each other at least five times each season with 2-3 games being in Manitoba.

“It'll be nice. When they come here it’s no big deal, but going there is going to be nice,” Helm said. “I can play in front of my family instead of having them come all the way here to watch a game. It's going to be nice to have them leave the house half and hour before the game, come down; get some time off, go home and get some home-cooked meals.”

The excitement for the Jets is overwhelming, and why not? Heading into Saturday’s game, Winnipeg has a 13-11-4 record and one-point out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Most of the team out there I've talked to are pretty happy about it,” Helm said. “My friends and family pay a lot more attention to the Wings, I don't think they care as much. But there's a lot of people I grew-up with are real excited, pretty pumped about getting chance to cheer for a hometown team.”

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POSTED ON Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 10:52 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Pavel Datsyuk had two assists before he left the game Thursday with a lower-body injury. (Photo by Greg Shamus)
It was a first-period, goal-scoring bonanza for the Red Wings, who had 10 different skaters named on the score sheet in Thursday’s 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.

“I think that was one of better periods we played in a long time,” said Todd Bertuzzi, who got the scoring started with his second goal of the season. “I think we were on them, made some great plays and scored a lot of goals.”

It was the Wings’ first five-goal opening period outburst since they jumped on the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 7, 2009. Detroit won that game, 8-3.

Besides Bertuzzi, the Wings got first-period goals by Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm and Jiri Hudler.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Wings, owners of the league’s best home record at 11-2-1 this season.

“It's a good win for our team and a good bounce back,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Anytime you lose two in a row you want to bounce back right away. I thought our big players were really skating.''

Wings center Pavel Datsyuk left the game early with a lower-body injury and did not return.

“He left early, we knew he was a bit sore going into the game, didn't get sore or anything like that,” Babcock said. “He'll be fine. We'll probably give him tomorrow off and go from there.”
 
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 6:36 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Matt Shepard and Larry Murphy in St. Louis. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A different kind of pro will make his Red Wings’ debut this season when the team drops the puck tonight against the Blues at Scottrade Center.

Matt Shepard, the versatile radio and television broadcaster – not to mention the pride of North Farmington High School – will handle TV play-by-play tonight, filling in for Ken Daniels, who is home in Toronto for his father’s funeral.

For Shepard, a huge hockey fan, who has broadcast Detroit Lions football, University of Michigan basketball and several CCHA games over the years, broadcasting the Wings’ game, even if it’s in a pinch-hitting role, is a dream come true. 

“I’m really excited for my first NHL game ever,” Shepard said. “It was interesting, I got a text from my sister today, they’re big hockey fans in my family, and my sister was like, ‘We’ll be watching.’ Usually, my family will watch stuff that I do, but they won’t be sending me stuff.

“They’re really excited about it because they love Red Wings’ hockey and the tradition.”

Shepard will be working with Hall of Famer Larry Murphy.

 
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POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 2:51 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

The Blues' Ken Hitchcock and Red Wings' Mike Babcock
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock have developed a pretty good friendship and mutual respect for one another over their years in the NHL.

Heck, Babcock even wanted Hitchcock on his Team Canada coaching staff at the Winter Olympics in 2010. The former Dallas coach who guided the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup accepted the invitation, and Canada won gold. Last summer Babcock asked his friend if he’d join the Red Wings’ coaching staff. Hitchcock politely declined, and last month the 59-year-old Edmonton native took over the Blues’ head coaching gig.

For years, the coaching friends have picked each other’s brains about schemes, strategies and philosophies, so obviously they have very similar coaching styles.

“I think we are in 95 percent agreement with how the game is played,” Hitchcock said about Babcock. “There’s one change defensively that we did than what they did, and then offensively it’s pretty close to the similar philosophy.”

Since taking over for former coach Davis Payne, who was fired Nov. 6, Hitchcock has guided the St. Louis to a turnaround which has seen them vault from No. 14 in the Western Conference to a tie for No. 5. The noticeable difference for the Blues has been with their defense. Under Payne the Blues were out-scored 32-35 in 13 games. In 13 games under Hitchcock, St. Louis has turned the tables, outscoring opponents 31-23.

And ‘Hitch’ credits a lot of what he coaches to the things he learned from Babcock.

“I think where I learned the most was with the way they teach power play and penalty killing,” said Hitchcock, who was a guest at Wings’ training camp a few years ago. “I think that that really was helpful for me with going through the Olympic experience. I think you’re always wondering why their power play is always so successful for so many years, and then going through the Olympic experience between what we did defensively and what Detroit did defensively and offensively was kind of the game plan for the Olympics. And then watching Mike put the power play in play there and have success was an eye-opener, to kind of see the way he did things and their kind of philosophy was very revealing. So I think that part – it hasn’t shown yet – but it’s been very helpful for me.”

Something else that has impressed Hitchcock about the Red Wings’ way is their overall sense of family. It’s something that he hopes he can bring to St. Louis’ organization.

“The other thing that helped about being with Detroit was, we all talk about team, we all talk about all-inclusive, but they are an all-inclusive community,” he said. “When you go for dinner it’s 100 (percent). The dinners are huge, everybody’s involved. And when they talk about doing team-building activities during training camp it’s just a massive group of people from the people who volunteer in Traverse City to everybody, and everybody is expected to be there, which for me is really impressive.”


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POSTED ON Sunday, 12.04.2011 / 7:25 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Niklas Kronwall and the Red Wings have things rolling, particularly in the first period where they have out-scored the last seven opponents, 10-1.
DENVER, Colo. – One particular battle cry for coach Mike Babcock this season has been the importance of jumping on opponents with plenty of energy and tenacity from the opening face-off.

The commitment has never been more evident than now for the Red Wings who take a seven-game winning streak into the Pepsi Center where they’ll face the Colorado Avalanche tonight. 

Detroit has outscored its last seven opponents 10-1 in the first period. The Wings have allowed a league-low 12 first-period goals this season.

“Even though we haven’t played our best level yet, we’ve still been able to come up with wins,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Same thing against Buffalo the other night when the first 20 (minutes) were really good then we let up a little bit.”

The last time the Wings allowed a first-period goal came in Los Angeles when Mike Richards scored shorthanded at 6:37 on Nov. 19. The Wings have trailed only twice for a total of six minutes, 7 seconds during this streak. The other time was when they were down 1-0 vs. Calgary.

It’s interesting to note that a month ago some in the media were ready to kick dirt on the Wings’ grave after a 0-5-1 stretch while being out-scored 22-6.

“The biggest pressure that anyone puts on this team comes from right here in this locker room,” Kronwall said. “We feel that we have something good going here. Obviously going without winning in six games in a row, it’s tough when you’re not used to it. But at the same time I feel that we did a pretty good job of sticking with the game plan, and we stuck together. There was no pointing fingers, whatsoever. We just knew that everyone in here had to be a little bit better.

“We had made some mistakes that cost us, big time. We knew that eventually, if we kept creating chances, the puck was going to go in, and it was nice to get that Los Angeles game to get us back to winning again.”
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POSTED ON Friday, 12.02.2011 / 9:53 AM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

BUFFALO, N.Y. Justin Abdelkader is a huge football fan and an even bigger Michigan State supporter, who’s excited that his alma mater is headed to Saturday’s inaugural Big Ten football championship with a chance to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.

“I hope that Michigan State can come through, but I know it’s going to be a tough obstacle for them,” said Abdelkader, who he’ll be watching the nationally televised game with some Red Wings’ teammates in Denver.

The Spartans are preparing to beat Wisconsin for the second time this fall. MSU defeated the Badgers on a Hail Mary pass by quarterback Kirk Cousins on the game’s final play.

“Wisconsin is really good and it’s going to be tough beating them twice in a row,” Abdelkader said.

The Wings’ forward and the MSU quarterback have traveled similar life paths. Both grew-up in western Michigan where they were three-sport student-athletes for their high schools – Abdelkader played hockey, football and basketball at Muskegon Mona Shores, and Cousins was a football, basketball and baseball standout at Holland Christian.

And if things go the Spartans’ way this weekend, Cousins can claim to have led his team to a monumental win just as Abdelkader did when his last-second goal gave MSU a national hockey championship victory over Boston College in 2007. 

Both guys know each other, and Cousins has been a previous guest in the Red Wings’ dressing room at Joe Louis Arena. And though Abdelkader doesn’t have Cousins’ cell number, he would offer valuable advice to the MSU senior.

“Just enjoy the opportunity, I mean, win, lose, draw, just go out there and have fun,” said Abdelkader, a former prep quarterback. “Obviously it’s a big game, but at the same time it’s the inaugural Big Ten championship game and playing in that on a national stage with an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl. … Man, just enjoy it.”

Even though MSU is a 10-point underdog to the Badgers, Abdelkader likes the Spartans’ chances in Indianapolis.

“I think they have a good running game, I think they’re physical up front, Kirk Cousins is a really good quarterback and he’s not going to lose you the game, he’s not going to make mental mistakes,” Abdelkader said. “He knows the offense well and then with B.J. Cunningham they know each other well and obviously they have some threats on offense so I like them. I like their defense, I think their defense has done an outstanding job this year, but Wisconsin is really good and it’s going to be tough beating them twice in a row.”

Like a true athlete, Abdelkader won’t look past the Badgers with the possibility of returning to Pasadena for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

“It would be nice, but it will be tough to get there,” said Abdelkader, of the Rose Bowl. “I think they just have to focus on the game at hand, and hopefully we’ll get a win and get to the Rose Bowl – that would be awesome.

“You’re definitely think about it, but it’s a big game and it isn’t going to be easy because Wisconsin is a really good team. I think everyone is nervous, but excited and getting ready for the match-up.”
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POSTED ON Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 5:26 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal
The Red Wings' Darren Helm

As Red Wings’ players filed onto Red Bird III Thursday afternoon for a short flight to Buffalo where they’ll face the Sabres Friday night, one thing was quite clear: Movember is over.

Several players throughout the league, including the Red Wings, participated in Movember, growing mustaches to bring awareness to men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.

With the exception of one noticeable objector, the Wings who grew facial hair during the month-long campaign were clean-shaven on the first day of December.

Not only did forward Darren Helm grow a ’stache he let his dish-water blonde hair grow below his collar.

“I figured if I had a mustache I might as well have long, disgusting out-of-control hair,” Helm said Wednesday morning. “When I get a chance I'll probably trim it up a bit and the mustache will probably go.”

But somewhere along the way, Helm had a change of heart, trimming up the hair and the mustache for the Wings’ road trip, which begins in Buffalo before heading to Colorado and St. Louis.
 

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 11:07 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

DAVID MANNINO - 1993-2011
While many of his peers on the Red Wings’ ice crew are often shy, not-so talkative teenagers, Dave Mannino was the complete opposite.

There wasn’t an ounce of bashfulness in him. And that’s what you first noticed most when meeting Dave. He was just an openly-friendly teen with a gregarious and unflappable personality.

He made you laugh, and he made you think, whether it was about hockey, or the validity of pro wrestling or the rivalries of the sports teams in the Detroit Catholic High School League.

He had such a bright outlook on life.

Even when he discovered a lump on his right collarbone last April, and doctors told that it was acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, Dave remained upbeat and positive. Even when chemotherapy treatments kept him from attending senior prom at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, and from walking the stage at graduation, he was optimistic.

Dave was an outstanding student-athlete. He earned all-state honors as a forward on the Cubs’ prep hockey team, carried a 4.2 grade point average in the classroom, and had been accepted at the University of Michigan.

Earlier this month Dave got a dose of great news when he learned that the cancer had gone in remission.

He was so excited to share the news with everyone during the Wings’ game against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 12. He ever sat in my office that Saturday night and chatted for 20 minutes, said he had one more major round of chemo starting on Monday and that he would return to the JLA ice crew by January.

He skated with his crew members that night, shoveled the ice during TV timeouts at the 14, 10 and 6-minute marks of each period. The chemo zapped his strength, and it took everything that he had to perform the on-ice duties that he loved to do so much.
 
Still, when we last saw him at The Joe, he assured us that he would return. He was a fighter, and there was no doubt that the future was as bright as his personality.

But this week the cancer took that promising future away.

Dave died Monday with his family at his side. He was 18-years-old.

He loved life and enjoyed people, and he especially liked annoying fellow ice crew members, Brittany and Maria. He was a fan of The Rock, the pro wrestler, and had a penchant for Puma athletic shoes and anything purple.

Al Sobotka, the building manager and Zamboni driver at JLA, oversees the ice crew and often kiddingly called Dave “Jay Leno” for his likeness to the late night comic.

Last Thursday, Dave sent Al Sobotka a text message. In it he wished the Red Wings’ Zamboni driver a Happy Thanksgiving, and finished the note with, “I look at you as my third grandfather”.

Dave is survived by his parents, Dr. Thomas and Annita; his brother Thomas Jr.; sister Andrea; grandmother Annita; and many loving aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

A visitation will be held this Friday from 1-9 p.m. at McCabe Funeral Home, 31950 West 12 Mile Road, Farmington Hills, Mich. A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Brightmoor Christian Church, 40800 West 13 Mile Road, Novi, Mich.

Donations may be made to the foundation seventyk.org.

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