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POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 6:09 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

Monday, after the Red Wings practiced at Joe Louis Arena, coach Mike Babcock told the news media how exciting the rest of his day was going to be. He had plans to watch the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS before heading to Ford Field with his son to catch the undefeated Detroit Lions take center stage on Monday Night Football.

Following Tuesday afternoon’s practice, Babcock was still gushing over the experience. But not for the reasons one would expect.

“I got to meet Bob Seger last night,” said Babcock with a beaming smile. “I went to the game, got to meet Bob Seger. I met lots of guys, but Bob Seger … My buddy and I when we were 17, went all the way to Ottawa from Saskatoon, hitch-hiked and bused and did everything to see his concert and I finally met him 31 years later.”

The 66-year-old Seger and the Silver Bullet Band begins a 17 city tour through the U.S. – and oddly enough, a stop in Ottawa – next month with the opening show Nov. 2 on the Eastern Michigan University campus in Ypsilanti.

The excitement for what is happen right now in Detroit with the Tigers in the postseason, and the Lions doing what they’re doing to the NFL competition, the atmosphere in downtown Detroit Monday was at an all-time new level.

“It's really exciting,” Babcock said. “It's exciting to see the Lions do so well and see what they're building. And it's exciting to see the Tigers, it's great for our town.”

The streets leading from the bars and restaurants, including the establishment owned by former Wings defenseman Chris Chelios were electric, Babcock said.

“Went to Cheli's place the other night when the Tigers were playing,” he said. “Last night, downtown, walking from the ballpark to Ford Field and seeing the excitement of the people and the noise, it was unbelievable. I think it's great for Michigan and good for the whole town.”

POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.11.2011 / 1:13 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

In a move to accommodate the American League championship series, the Red Wings announced today that Thursday's game against the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks will now start at 8 p.m. EDT.

Doors to Joe Louis Arena will still open Thursday at 6 p.m.

The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers are in a best-of-seven ALCS with the winner representing the American League in the World Series. However, Thursday's Game 5, which is scheduled for 4:19 p.m., will only take place if the Tigers, who trail 0-2 in the series, can win one of the next two games -- tonight or Wednesday afternoon -- at Comerica Park.

POSTED ON Monday, 10.10.2011 / 3:54 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

Hey the Red Wings are 2-0-0 on the young season. But while they’ve taken care of business by beating the teams that they should, like Ottawa and Colorado – a pair of teams that have missed the playoffs in two of the last three seasons – the Wings know that they can play better, especially on the power-play.

“We haven't executed well,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We've got some good breakouts and we've been setting up, but we haven't gotten the shots when you need them.'”

Through the first two games, the Wings are 0-for-9 with the man-advantage.

With a few days to prepare for their next opponent – Thursday when the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks visit Joe Louis Arena – coach Mike Babcock said Monday that he plans to juggle one of the power-play units by using Jiri Hudler on the point with Niklas Kronwall.

“I'm not getting Huds on the ice enough,” Babcock said. “Then Huds and Mule can get switching in and out of the middle on that thing. I'll have (Danny) Cleary at the net with them and (Valtteri) Filppula so we'll have a different look on our second group than or first group.”

Only Columbus and Anaheim have had more PP opportunities and remain scoreless with a man-advantage.

“Specialty teams are going to be important,” Lidstrom said. “We worked a little bit on the power play today after practice but that's something we'll be working on a little more to get it going and get some goals on it.'”

POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 9:05 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

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.”
POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 5:18 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

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.
POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 3:41 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal
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.”

POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 1:41 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

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.
While the players and coaches have been hard at work for the past month preparing for a lengthy, and grueling, 82-game regular-season schedule, countless others have toiled behind the scenes to guarantee that everything else about tonight is viewed as an eminence accomplishment.

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!

POSTED ON Friday, 10.7.2011 / 11:21 AM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal
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.”

POSTED ON Thursday, 10.6.2011 / 5:27 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

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.

POSTED ON Thursday, 10.6.2011 / 3:08 PM ET
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | / The Wheel Deal

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.



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