|Darby Wright, the goalie for Bourdow's Hockey Shop in Saginaw, makes a save on former Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios during the inaugural Grind Line Challenge at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – Darby Wright was still breathing heavy as he sat in the Red Wings’ locker room following a spirited 4-on-4 pick-up game against a small army of former pros. But through the goalie’s graying beard was the hint of a youthful smile that said he was glad to have experienced the challenge as one of the average Joes.
Wright and his Bourdow’s Hockey Shop teammates from Saginaw, Mich., visited Joe Louis Arena this week to take on some former Red Wings in the inaugural Grind Line Challenge. Despite losing, 20-9, to their hockey idols, Wright was still thrilled to have been a part of it.
Through his elevated heart rate, Wright was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing slap shots from Kris Draper, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy, Dino Ciccarelli, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Joey Kocur.
QUESTION: What was it like to play against the Grind Line?
WRIGHT: “It was such a great time. It was just so awesome.”
Q. Were you a big fan of the Wings when all these guys were playing?
Wright: “Oh yeah. I grew up watching (John) Ogrodnick, (Petr) Klima, all those guys, and then obviously I loved watching these guys during the glory years.”
Q. So does this bring back any memories of those glory years for you?
Wright: “Oh sure. Just to be out there on the ice, this was the first time I’ve ever been on the ice at The Joe and it’s huge. It’s not like the rink we come from.”
Q. Who did you enjoy playing against most?
Wright: “Being a goalie, I’m a Chris Osgood fan and he’s a great guy.”
Q. Who was the toughest guy to stop?
Wright: “Gotta be Draper. He shoots the biscuit.”
Q. As fans of the Wings, what does it mean to you guys to come out and play here?
Wright: “We’ve been playing together for about 20 years and this was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ve been geeked up for it for about two months so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Q. Did any of you guys ever play minor league hockey or pro anywhere?
Wright: “Bill Miller played in the ECHL, and we had one guy play in the USHL, but most of the guys played college hockey.”
Q. How about you? Did you play anywhere?
Wright: “Nope, just a little junior hockey that’s about it.”
Q. Looks like they worked you pretty good out there, huh?
Wright: “Oh yeah, I probably won’t be able to walk for a month.”
Q. But you had fun, right?
Wright: “Oh yeah. It was a great time, like I said it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
|Some Red Wings alumni gathered at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday where they accepted a 4-on-4 challenge from a group of players from Saginaw, Mich. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – It was the Red Wings’ version of Pros vs. Joes.
A collection of Wings alumni – who together scored more than 1,500 goals in over 8,300 NHL games – took on a group of challengers with eclectic skills Tuesday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.
Kris Draper and his former infamous linemates accepted the first of five Grind Line Challenges this year from a group of friends, who drove from Saginaw, Mich., for a round of 4-on-4 hockey.
“It was good,” Draper said. “I mean, you look around the room and we’re breathing heavy, and we’re sweating, too. Obviously, we’re out to have fun and to have a good time, but bottom line: We’re not losing.”
Though it’s been a few years since the pros were competing for higher stakes, they certainly attacked Tuesday’s challenge with the same vigor as they trounced Bourdow’s Hockey Shop, 20-9.
Joining Draper and the Grind Liners – Joey Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty – were Wings’ legends Chris Osgood, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy and Dino Ciccarelli. All eight alumni have committed to play in the Alumni Showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs alumni, which is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Comerica Park.
“How can you not have fun with the guys that we had out there? It was awesome,” Draper said. “To be able to skate with these guys again, Dino, Murph, Cheli, obviously Ozzie, Mac and Malts, and Joey, we just had a real good crew and it was great that everyone could make it.”
For Draper, Tuesday’s tune-up was just the second time that he’s played in a winged-wheel jersey since May 12, 2011.
|Grind Line Challenge
“I played in one alumni game and that was it,” said Draper, who is one of six players to play in 1,000 games for the Detroit franchise. “So, basically since Game 7 of my last game in San Jose that’s the second time that I’ve had the fully equipment on.”
|It was time for a jersey number down-grade for Cory Emmerton, who will now wear the number once worn by Darren McCarty. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – Cory Emmerton’s plate was full enough last season to make such an insignificant request. Or so he figured.
“At the time when you make the team the last thing that you’re thinking about is changing your number,” said Emmerton, who’s been assigned No. 48 since the Red Wings drafted the St. Thomas, Ontario, native in the second-round of the 2006 NHL draft.
After last season, Emmerton approached Paul Boyer and asked the team’s equipment manager if he could switch his jersey number to No. 25, which he wore during OHL stops in Kingston and Brampton.
Whether it’s superstitious, or not, Emmerton fared quite well with 25 at the junior level, producing 97 goals and 255 points in four OHL seasons. However, it was by accident that Emmerton became enamored by the number. As a first-year junior with the Frontenacs in 2004-05, the only numbers left to choose were in the 20s.
“I wore 2 (growing up) and 25 was open and I was looking for something in the 20s,” he said. “I kind of became fond of it as I began to wear it and it grew on me.”
Emmerton, who is the third player ever to don 48 in Wings’ history, is now the 31st to sport 25, and the first since Darren McCarty.
“Now I’m going to have to start playing like him to keep that tradition going,” Emmerton said of McCarty’s aggressive reputation. “Obviously, everyone was a Grind Line fan, whoever watched them play. They were fun to watch. I had the pleasure of playing with him in Grand Rapids when he was down the one year for a while, so I got to know him as a person and as a player, too. Obviously, it’s easy for me to say that I’m a big McCarty fan as a whole.”
Now that he’s changed the number on his back, Emmerton will likely change his Twitter handle, which currently includes his old jersey digit. But he’ll do so knowing that the switch may draw grief from an old teammate.
“Yeah, I expect that, it just comes with the territory of knowing (Mike) Commodore,” he said. “He’s going to give you grief for anything that he can.”
|Jonas Gustavsson made a day-trip to The Joe on Tuesday to meet with goalie coach Jim Bedard as well as members of the front office staff. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
One of the newest Red Wings made a day-trip to Detroit on Tuesday.
Goalie Jonas Gustavsson visited Joe Louis Arena in the morning before heading to suburban Warren where he toured the Warrior equipment facilities.
“Everyone has been so friendly and easy-going,” said Gustavsson, of his first impressions. “They’ve made me feel welcome and that really feels good because you never know what to expect.”
Gustavsson planned to return to Toronto Tuesday evening before heading home to Sweden later in the week.
Though he spent the last three NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs, Gustavsson has a pretty good idea about what life will be like with at least some of his new teammates. As backup on Sweden’s national team in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Gustavsson played alongside some of the Wings’ top players, like Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom.
While Gustavsson, who earned the moniker The Monster during his playings days in Sweden, hasn’t talked to any of the Wings since signing his new two-year contract on Sunday, he did receive one acknowledgement.
“Kronwall actually texted me and told me that he was psyched,” Gustavsson said. “But I’m really looked forward to meeting all of the players.”
Gustavsson grew-up in Danderyd, which is about a 30-minute drive north of Stockholm, where as a teenager he said he’d often stay up late to watch NHL games.
“As a Swede you followed the Red Wings with all of their history and all of the Swedes who have been here,” he said. “Obviously, with Lidstrom, a player like that that has been here for many years, and he’s such a big figure back in Sweden, too, everyone back home wants to follow the career of a guy like that, and I was one of them.”
However, the games that captivated his interest the most were the Detroit-Colorado matchups, particularly the playoff bouts when the league’s greatest rivalry of the era faced in the postseason five times between 1996 and 2002.
“I remember being a kid and watching the games against Colorado in the (conference) finals and it seemed like they were there every year against each other,” Gustavsson recalled. “I would sit up late in the morning to watch those games. The thing about Detroit, everyone knows that their culture is winning and that’s why I’m so happy to be here and be a part of that.”
Another rivalry that Gustavsson is thrilled to be a part of pits new against old when the Wings will host the Leafs in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
“It’s going to be unbelievable, first of all, just to be a part of a big thing like that and to play in front of a lot of people outdoors – I’ve never done that – so that’s going to be a great experience and a lot of fun,” he said. “To have a chance to play for the Red Wings against my former team, that’s going to be even more fun. I’m looking forward to that. It should be a great day.”
|Damien Brunner has compiled 190 points in 167 games in Switzerland's top league. (Photo by Getty Images)|
PITTSBURGH, Penn. – Like it is with any unknown, the jury is still out on Swiss star Damien Brunner, who will likely sign a free agent contract with the Red Wings once he’s eligible to do so after July 1.
Brunner is best described as a speedy slick offensive forward whose a capable passer, has a lightning quick shot, and the ability to finish around the net. But Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill cautions against getting too high on an unproven commodity.
“There are some things that concern me,” said Nill, who is in Pittsburgh for the 50th annual NHL draft this weekend at Consol Energy Center. “But you never know he might be the next superstar.”
While it might be a gamble to take a flyer on a 26-year-old who doesn’t have NHL experience, the risk for the Red Wings is relatively low especially since every team can use depth.
Brunner has played four seasons for EV Zug in Switzerland’s National League A. He led the Doug Shedden coached club last season with 24 goals and 36 assists. Shedden played for the Red Wings from 1985-87.
In four seasons, Brunner has produced 78 goals and 112 assists in 167 games. Last October, in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers, Brunner collected a goal and an assist in an 8-4 win played in Zug, Switzerland.
Brunner has played in two IIHF World Championships, including last month’s tournament in Finland. He led the Swiss team with seven points in seven games.
For Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, the excitement of being at his first NASCAR race on Sunday will be as tantalizing as seeing what his team’s general manager does when the NHL’s free agency period opens next month.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Howard, about attending the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, where he will give the command of, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
Accompanied by his dad, James, Sunday’s race was made ever more special since the two got to spend it together on Father’s Day.
“The fathers trip is always a great time, you get to spent some time with your son and see what he goes through every day and how he prepares,” said the senior Howard, referring to the Wings’ annual father-and-son road trip. “He and I don’t get to spend that much time together alone, so this is been great, really rewarding. I figure it’s been about seven or eight years since we’ve been able to do something like this.”
It’s also been a very long time since the Wings last played the role of big spenders in free agency.
There has been plenty of speculation in the media and amongst fans that the Wings will try to land one, or both, of this year’s top unrestricted free agents – center Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
Certainly, the offseason losses of defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, who announced his retirement after 20 seasons, and Brad Stuart, whose rights were traded to San Jose, general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill has their hands full this summer.
But as intrigued as Howard is to find out what new faces may join him and his teammates on next season’s roster, the Wings’ goalie said he isn’t the lobbying kind.
“I don’t feel like it’s up to somebody making phone calls,” said Howard, about calling UFAs to convince them to come to Detroit. “If they want to be a Red Wing, they will be. That’s Kenny and Jim Nill’s department.
“There is that sort of, ‘What’s going on?’ in everyone’s mind. We’ll see what happens July 1. It’s the first time in a long time that the Wings have been able to go out in the open market like this.”
|Red Wings coach Mike Babcock greets Calle Jarnkrok after the NHL club made the Swedish center a second-round draft pick in 2010. (Photo by Getty Images)|
It’s one thing for young unproven prospects to awe front office folks, but it’s another to pique the curiosity of NHL players.
Yet that’s what 2010 second-round draft pick Calle Jarnkrok apparently did during the IIHF World Championship last month.
Shortly after the Red Wings signed Jarnkrok to a three-year, entry-level contract last week, assistant general manager Jim Nill called the 20-year-old Swedish center one of the franchise’s top prospects.
High praise for a youngster who hasn’t played in an NHL game, let alone participate in a big-league training camp, but the way one Wings’ player sees it, it’s a well-deserved accolade.
“He’s got so much upside,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kornwall said. “Very impressive.”
Jarnkrok played alongside Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson on the Swedish national team that competed in the 16-team international tournament in Sweden and Finland in May.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound speedster finished with one assist in eight games while skating mostly on the Swede’s second forward line between a pair of Ottawa Senators – Daniel Alfredsson and prospect Jakob Silfverberg.
The telling tourney statistics for Jarnkrok was his performance in the face-off circle where he won 67.1 percent of his 70 draws. Only Norway’s Marius Holtet (68.7 percent), a former Dallas Stars prospect, had a higher percentage of face-off wins during the 17-day tournament.
“He’s got the skill to play with our top guys,” Kronwall said, of Jarnkrok. “He’s still, I think a few more pounds away to being ready, but even at the World Championship there was no way to tell that he was too light or anything like that.
“He’s so smart that he puts himself in the right positions to cover the puck or win the puck back. Even though he’s not a huge guy he’s still very strong on his stick, with good balance and outstanding hockey sense.”
Though he signed with the Wings, Jarnkrok will likely spend the upcoming season playing for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. The hope is that Jarnkrok will be granted permission to participate in the Wings’ training camp in September, but either way, Kronwall is a believer in the young prospect.
“I always get impressed nowadays with a kid that’s coming up – they’re 18-, 19-years-old – and they’re ready to go,” Kronwall said. “They don’t need the years in the minors always. A lot of them are ready to go and their bodies are already mature enough that they’re good to go.”
And based on what Kronwall saw last month, Jarnkrok isn’t far away from making it to the NHL.
“Growing up in Michigan, I’ve always been a Red Wings’ fan,” said Collins, in his second season as the Mets skipper.
The Mets have planned a series of themed road trips this summer. Meant as team-bonding exercises, the Mets began with Western outfits last month in Houston. The exercises are similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays have done in recent years with their Johnny Cash inspired all-black trip and their pajama party plane parade.
Someone on the Mets came up with the idea of wearing NHL jerseys on the team’s interleague road trip to Toronto last weekend.
Collins, who was a three-sport prep star at Midland High School in the mid-60s, wore a Red Wings home jersey with Pavel Datsyuk’s No. 13 on the back. The Michigan native, who also managed the Houston Astros and California Angels during his career, wasn’t alone in his Winged Wheel choice as two other members of the Mets’ entourage, pitchers Tim Byrdak and Robert Carson, also donned Wings sweaters for the trip.
“We’ve got a lot of hockey fans on our club,” Collins said. “In spring training we talked about taking themed road trips and one of the guys said, ‘Hey, let’s take a hockey trip when we go to Canada.’ So I told all of the players that they could pick a team and we went to the NHL Store and got the jerseys.”
Many of the 30 NHL teams were represented by the Mets’ players and staff as they got off the team’s bus in front of The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. But some players chose to go off the grid, like Canadian-born outfielder Jason Bay who went old school with a Hartford Whalers jersey while relief pitcher Jon Rauch went Hollywood in a Syracuse Bulldogs sweater made famous in the classic hockey movie “Slapshot”.
A couple teams still alive in the STanley Cup playoffs were represented as well with relief pitcher Manny Acosta going with a New York Rangers jersey and catcher Mike Nickeas, who’s one of two Canadians on the big league roster, picking a Los Angeles Kings sweater. All-Star pitcher Johan Santana wore a Minnesota Wild sweater, which isn’t that strange considering that he got his big league career started with the Twins in 2000.
Always a Wings' fan, Collins forged that fanaticism as a student-athlete at Eastern Michigan University where he led the Hurons to the NAIA baseball national championship in 1970. Back then it wasn’t unusual for Collins and his buddies to make the 70-mile round trip to Olympia Stadium several times a season to watch his favorite players, including Gordie Howe.
“I went to a ton of games,” Collins said. “Sid Abel, Ned Harkness and Alex Delvecchio put together some pretty good teams.”
Then there was the unforgettable night when Collins attended a home game against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I remember being surprised by just how big he was,” said Collins, of meeting Howe after the game. “It was a long time ago, almost 40 years. He was an all-time great and he took time out to talk to me. He was 'the guy' and it was an experience I'll never forget.”
So then why a Datsyuk jersey on the Toronto trip?
“I wanted one with a name on the back and (Datsyuk’s) was available,” said Collins, who will turn 63 this Sunday. “They have a lot of great stars. I enjoy watching them play.”
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|Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader reads the oath of re-enlistment to Chief Petty Officer Aron Mazurek, of the U.S. Navy on Thursday. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)|
That’s what made Thursday’s re-enlistment ceremony at Joe Louis Arena so special for the Warren, Mich., native, who graduated from Lincoln High School in 1998.
Standing on a red carpet and about the precise spot on the ice where Karen Newman sings the National Anthem prior to each home game, Mazurek’s swearing in ceremony was officiated by Wings forward Justin Abdelkader.
“This was amazing as I’ve been a lifelong Red Wings’ fan having grown up down the street,” said Muzurek, 32. “I used to come to a lot of the games and I’ve watched them in Spain, from Africa, and off the coast of Iraq on a ship.”
Abdelkader, who grew-up in Muskegon, Mich., and flew with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels last July was delighted to administer the oath of re-enlistment to CPO Mazurek.
Abdelkader and goalie Jimmy Howard are set to leave this Saturday for Finland where they will represent Team USA at the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
“My enlistment contract was up and I reenlisted for six more years in the Navy,” said Mazurek, who enlisted 14 years ago. “The world travel is my favorite and the stability that it provides in a struggling economy and the training on the most high-tech equipment that you can think of. It’s amazing.”
Mazurek and his family will remain in Michigan until mid-November when they will move to Virginia Beach, Va.
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|Wings defenseman Brad Stuart played around with his sons, Jake and Logan, at the Pepsi Center in Denver before a practice in early December. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
Actually, I wouldn’t want to know.
But professional athletes are different. They’re often forced to make life-changing choices, which some times means leaving family behind in the pursuit of a dream. It’s a business decision that Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart and his family made four years ago. But now that his contract is drawing to an end, it appears that more important things may take precedence over hockey.
As the Wings cleaned out their locker room at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, Stuart spoke candidly about the last four years in Detroit, his teammates, the organization, his hockey future, and his desire to be closer to his family, including two young sons, Jake and Logan.
Since the Wings acquired Stuart in a trade from Los Angeles late in the 2007-08 season he has regularly made trips home to San Jose, Calif., even if that meant seeing his wife Melissa, the boys, and his teenage step-daughter for only a day before rejoining the team.
It’s been tough on Stuart, but tougher to see tears well in the boys’ eyes as they beg dad not to leave.
“There were times if we had a Sunday off and didn't play again until Wednesday, they'd let me take Sunday and Monday off so I'd go home Sunday, come back Monday night, miss a practice,” Stuart said. “Now flying in for a day is some times worse than not coming at all because they get all emotional. I made it through the last few years. It'll be a decision we have to make whether we can do it again.”
The decision that Stuart must make is whether to enter free agency on July 1 – and hope to land a deal with a California-based team like the Kings or Sharks – or negotiate a deal with Wings general manager Ken Holland.
“It’s not as easy as just picking and choosing where you want to go,” Stuart said. “I guess the decision I'll have to make is am I going to go to free agency? I haven't talked to Kenny yet so I guess I’ll have to talk to him a little bit about it.”
During his time with the Wings, which includes winning the Stanley Cup in 2008, Stuart has been a steady contributor on the blue line and an exceptional defender on the penalty kill. Partners with Niklas Kronwall for much of his time, there’s no doubt that Stuart will be missed.
But who can blame a man for wanting to be with his family?
“Family comes first. That's just the way it has to be,” Kronwall said. “He'll talk it over with his family, see how they feel. Everyone knows his family has been in California for a few years and it's got to be tough on him. His kids are growing up, and as much as I hate to see him leave, he needs to do what’s right for him and his family.”
The wounds of missing his family wound re-open every time his teammates brought their kids to The Joe to skate before and after practices. Stuart is as low-key of a person that you’ll ever meet, but whenever asked about his family you could see the hurt in his face and hear the tremble in his voice.
Stuart’s step-daughter has one more year of high school, and while his sons are only four- and five-years-old hockey has kept their dad away for half of their young lives.
“Those are all factors I have to consider,” Stuart said. “My boys are getting older now. … It's getting harder to be away from them. I don't enjoy being away from my kids or my wife.”
And no dad wants to see crocodile tears.
“Yeah, if it was a purely hockey decision, I would stay,” Stuart said. “But I've got other things to consider and other factors other than just hockey. Those are things I guess I'll have to figure out in the next month and a half.”
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