With his first shift in Friday's season-opener against the Ottawa Senators, Nicklas Lidstrom joined another exclusive group.
The Red Wings' captain became the sixth pro athlete in Detroit sports history to play his entire career, for at least 20-seasons, with the same local organization – the Red Wings, Detroit Tigers or Detroit Lions.
“I didn’t know that,” said Lidstrom, after Friday’s morning skate. “That’s some nice company.”
Lidstrom is the third Red Wing, joining hall-of-famers Alex Delvecchio and Steve Yzerman, to play 20-plus seasons in the same NHL sweater.
Tigers hall-of-fame right-fielder Al Kaline and shortstop Alan Trammell, and Lions kicker Jason Hanson are also in the 20-seasons club.
“I didn't see myself being here this long, especially with back in the 90s there were a lot more trades and players moving around,” Lidstrom said. “I didn't see that happening at all.”
Opening night starts in a few hours, but for Red Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer, the season began seven weeks ago.
|The new patch that the Red Wings will wear to honor their fallen friends.|
“My opening night started August 15, by loading a truck, getting orders, making sure that I have pants and gloves. It never stops,” said Boyer, in his 17th season with the organization. “It’s more exciting at the beginning of camp, when we know that we have to get going again. We have to get 63 guys up to Traverse City and get going.”
In the hours leading up to the season-opener against Ottawa, Boyer and his crew had to put new league-mandated two-inch numbers on the front of each players’ helmet. They also had to adhere patches, which pay homage to three former Red Wings killed last month in a Russian jetliner crash, to the left sleeve of each players’ jersey, as well as sew a special commemorative ‘Love for Lokomotiv’ patch on the inside of the jerseys.
Brad McCrimmon, Ruslan Salei and former prospect Stefan Liv were among 44 people who died Sept. 7 when the plane that was carrying their Lokomotiv hockey team crashed shortly after takeoff.
Tonight’s set of jerseys will eventually be sold to the public, with the proceeds going to the McCrimmon and Salei families. The plan is for the Wings to also make a special road ‘white’ set available. They will either wear that set later in the year at Anaheim of Philadelphia.
The new helmet numbers are meant to help the broadcast cameramen identify players.
“Really, it’s not much more than a regular game day,” Boyer said. “It’s the time leading up then just the day itself. Now today with our new patch going on, we have a little more to do.
“Normally, we like to wear the first set of jerseys in the last exhibition game, but we couldn’t do that because we hadn’t decided on a patch yet. And we also still had a lot of (Grand Rapids) guys still up here. But it’s the whole week that’s busy.”
Boyer has been busy with getting guys fitted with new skates, helmets and gloves. Typically, he would take that time after camp to get guys broken into new equipment.
“I don’t have the time to think about the excitement of opening night,” he said. “You just have too many things to get done. I’m just trying to make sure that we can get on the ice and play tonight.”
|The new NHL-mandated numbers that the players must now wear on the front of their helmets this season.|
|Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin signs autographs for fans outside of JLA Friday.|
A nine-time NHL All-Star and a three-time Norris Trophy winner, hall of fame defenseman Denis Potvin knows a thing or two about opening night butterflies.
Potvin, who won as many Stanley Cup championships as Nicklas Lidstrom, said that he still gets nervous before games. And he retired as a player after the 1987-88 season.
“But everyone will tell you that they don’t mind being nervous before the start of a game,” said Potvin, in town Friday as a color analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, which broadcasts Ottawa Senators games.
“I’m not as nervous. But yes, I’m very excited for the start of a new season,” he said.
Potvin said that he was very much a creature of habit during his playing career, something that continues to follow him into his 18th season as a broadcaster.
“It was always just a routine,” he said. “I have no problem having a nap in the middle of the afternoon, even today. But I think the butterflies come from the nervousness that you may not be able to do even the normal things. And that’s what you have to get over. I mean, you can achieve great things, but you don’t know when that will happen. But you just want to be able to do your normal things, move the puck, move up the ice, or whatever it is that you do.”
Potvin said that he doesn’t have a lot of memories of playing the Red Wings during his career, which makes sense, since he probably only played in Detroit a handful of times, if that.
“They were always a physical team,” Potvin said. “But the thing that the Red Wings lacked in the years that I played in the 70s and 80s is that they really didn’t have the speed and the puck control that they have now. But really the talent started shaping up in the 80s when (Steve) Yzerman showed up, and of course, (Nicklas) Lidstrom after that. Those were not great years for the Red Wings.”
What are Potvin’s recollections of playing for then New York Islanders and then-assistant general manager Jimmy Devellano?
“I love the guy. They had to steal him from our organization to bring him here to finally build a champion,” said Potvin of Devellano, who is created with being the architect to four Islanders Cup titles in the 80s. “He’s just one of the best, and still today, I love him, and I look forward to talking to him whenever I get a chance.”
For the majority of fans, who attend tonight’s game at Joe Louis Arena, a successful home opener will be measured by a Red Wings’ win or a loss to the Ottawa Senators.
|While the Senators were on the ice Friday morning, Joe Louis Arena crews were still in preparation-mode putting on the finishing touches to what everyone hopes is a win-win for the home crowd.|
And one such person, who has worked tirelessly to make sure that 20,000-plus guests enjoy their time at The Joe this evening is the Wings’ director of marketing Rob Mattina.
“We have long summers in the planning of the year, and I think you see all of your hard work come to fruition on opening night,” Mattina said. “So it’s as exciting for us, as it is for the fans and the players.”
While the players took to the ice at 10:30 today for their morning skate, and the hospitality staff was fast at work preparing meals for the 400, or so, expectant guests inside the CC Olympia Club, the Wings’ marketing department was putting the final touches on things, including the pre-game show, which is set to begin at 6:50 p.m.
Mattina and his crew were also working with advertisers and media outlets to build buzz about tonight’s opener.
“It starts with the advertising that’s going on, on the radio, and the new commercial kind of gives you chills,” Mattina said. “You feel the energy through all of the media people that we spoke to this morning, and seeing Tom Wilson, Ken Holland and Mike Babcock all on air today.
“You feel it with the players and the excitement as they’re coming into the building to practice this morning. I think, generally throughout the entire organization, there’s an excitement that comes with opening night.”
It’s never been a better time to be a sports fan in Detroit with the Tigers reaching the American League Championship Series and the Lions kicking off the NFL season with a 4-0 record for the first time since 1980. The Red Wings are the only pro sports team in town that consistently reaches the postseason, having won four Stanley Cup titles in the last 14 seasons.
And we’re just hours away from lifting the curtain on a new season for the city’s most-successful sports franchise as it heads back to work.
“The Red Wings are such a powerful brand that has been successful for so long, and we have the greatest fans in the NHL,” Mattina said. “And it’s awesome that the Tigers are winning, and it’s awesome for the City of Detroit that the Detroit Lions are doing fantastic.”
So how will Mattina judge whether or not tonight’s game was a hit with fans?
“You know it’s successful by the energy of the crowd," he said. "It’s all about the fans, and as long as the fans have smiles on their faces and you see high-energy in this building. ... And obviously, capping off with a Red Wings’ win will be fantastic.”
Sounds like a win-win for everyone!
|JLA executive chef John Borso and his staff have been hard at work all day in anticipation of feeding approximately 400 hungry guests tonight.|
It’s already crazy here at Joe Louis Arena, and the puck isn’t scheduled to drop on the new season for another eight hours, or so.
Yet, here in the kitchen, next to the CC Olympia Club, preparations to feed 400 hungry guests is well underway under the watchful eye of JLA executive chef John Borso.
“We’re preparing a little bit more, because we like to start off with a nice, big bang,” said Borso, as he loaded a piece of Thai coconut salmon dipped in peanut sauce onto the end of a wooden skewer. “Opening night is always special to us. We always try to out do last year’s opening night with doing different things.”
On the menu tonight on the CC Olympia Club includes a prime rib, a raw bar with oysters on the half shell, and for dessert pink Breast Cancer Awareness cupcakes
What goes into planning a meal for 400 or so guests on a nightly basis?
“I’m always reading magazine articles that give me ideas,” Borso said. “The Internet has been – over the last 10 years – a great gift. We also have sales people, who come in and educate and sell us things that they want to promote. So there are all sorts of avenues that can go into planning.”
At the end of the day, Borso and his staff feel good when their guests can retreat to their arena seats and watch a Red Wings’ victory.
“Knowing that we just feed a number of people through our club, and knowing that everybody is happy; they’ve gone to the game and are enjoying the game, and everybody is full and having a great time,” Borso said, “that’s what makes me happy.”
The NHL and former Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan, the league's new player safety czar, handed down a decision on Brendan Smith last week, essentially ending the young defenseman's attempt to make the Wings' opening night roster.
In the league’s decision, Smith received an eight-game suspension, which included five NHL regular-season contests, for his illegal hit to the head of Chicago forward Ben Smith.
While Smith didn’t agree with the league sentence, it was the right thing. The league is trying to crack down on shots to the heads of its players. So Smith took his lumps, said he'll learn from his mistake, and last weekend he returned to Grand Rapids, the Wings' American Hockey League affiliate, where he began to prepare for the Griffins’ season-opener Saturday night in Rockford.
However, today the AHL announced that its president, David Andrews, has independently reviewed the Smith-on-Smith collision – which occurred Sept. 28 at Chicago’s United Center – and he’s decided that Brendan’s hit warrants a separate three-game suspension in the AHL. Smith can return to action Oct. 18 in Grand Rapids.
Apparently, this is nothing new, and it’s been part of the AHL’s by-laws. But man, talk about piling on. And the worst thing is that Smith still must sit out five NHL games at some point.
If you know Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean, you know that the old defenseman in him comes out from time to time.
I’ve known Paul since he returned to the Red Wings as an assistant coach six seasons ago. He’s not a very talkative guy, but he will surprise you once in a while.
Every now and then he’d spot me in the hallways inside Joe Louis Arena. Most of the time I walk with my head down, which is a big no-no in hockey circles. “Don’t you know that you should never put your head down?” MacLean would tell me. From that point, it became a running joke.
“Head up,” he’d say whenever he’d see me.
“Head's up, Coach,” was the usual reply.
So now that MacLean has return to Detroit as the appointed leader of the enemy Senators, what will Friday’s opening night be like for him in his old stomping grounds?
“I'm just hoping I'm not scared to death,” he said. “I think I'll be alright. The Joe is always an exciting night. Being here at The Joe is a little bit special. They're not raising any banners so that's probably a good thing.”
Just keep your head up, Coach.
The Red Wings signed Mike Commodore on the first day of the free agency period last July. The 6-foot-4 defenseman was brought in to compete for a spot on the team’s third defensive pairing.
Now Commodore, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006, hasn’t skated in a week since catching a skate blade in the ice at Chicago’s United Center last Wednesday. Diagnosed with a Grade 1 MCL sprain, he will be fitted for a brace Thursday. But as far as a timetable for his return, everything is up in the air, Commodore said.
“This is all new to me. Never had a knee injury,” he said.
However, Commodore only has to remember last October as the last time he missed significant time early in a season, because of injury. Last year, he suffered a broken thumb in an opening-night fight with San Jose’s Ryane Clowe, and never really bounced back from the injury, collecting six points in 20 games with Columbus.
“It was bad timing. I came back from that,” said Commodore when asked about the thumb. “This is a little different. I’ve never had a knee problem in 12 years. The good thing is it’s only a Grade 1. Once I get this brace and skate for a few days, I’ll be ready to go.”
With Commodore out for at least Friday’s opener against Ottawa and Saturday’s game at Colorado, 24-year-old Jakub Kindl will be inserted into the role as the sixth defenseman. Still, Commodore isn't overly concerned about falling behind Kindl on the depth chart.
“I know my place,” Commodore said. “If he plays well that’s great. If the team is doing well, that’s what I’m here for. I want to be part of a good team that’s why I came here. I’m not worried about playing time at all, falling behind or losing ice-time.
“My main concern right now is getting my knee healthy and getting myself back in it. And when I’m healthy they’ll know I’m available.”
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Coach Mike Babcock ordered the Swedish forward off of the ice before practice even began.
"It was pretty obvious that he was in pain," Babcock said. Still, the Wings' coach is confident that he'll have Holmstrom back in time for the opener against the Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena.
As for other injuries, it looks as if defenseman Mike Commodore (MCL) will likely be the only guy not ready to return to action this weekend. Not only is he expected to miss Friday's opener, he'll also likely sit out Saturday's game at Colorado. The absense of Commodore means that Jakub Kindl will start the season as the sixth defenseman and will be paired with Jonathan Ericsson.
Center Pavel Datsyuk (sore back), forwards Henrik Zetterberg (upper body), Danny Cleary (upper body) and Patrick Eaves (foot) should all be ready to go against the Senators. Eaves and Commodore did not practice Tuesday.
Yet Babcock was satisfied to see everyone else back on the ice Tuesday morning.
“It’s amazing when you get rid of exhibition now who gets healthy fast,” Babcock said. “It’s like the Fountain of Youth.”
Here are the line combinations and defensive pairings as they skated today at JLA:
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Johan Franzen
Danny Cleary - Pavel Datsyuk - Jiri Hudler
Justin Abdelkader - Darren Helm - Todd Bertuzzi
Fabian Brunnstrom - Cory Emmerton - Drew Miller
Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl
Jimmy Howard - Ty Conklin