|Red Wings forward Cory Emmerton (left) battles defenseman Ian White for the puck this week at Troy Sports Center. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
TROY, Mich. – Red Wings forward Cory Emmerton hasn’t been in the league long enough to have played in every NHL building. But of the 21 rinks he has played in since making his NHL debut two years ago this month, there’s nothing better than 20,000 hockey-crazed fans at The Joe.
“The Joe is my favorite place to play with all of the history that it has and all of the great players who have played there and the fans just seem to live with every second of the game,” Emmerton said. “It’s a great place to play and I’m just excited to get back there.”
Emmerton has been part of a small group of Red Wings players who have participated in informal skates at the Troy Sports Center during the lockout, which was finally settled last Sunday after 113-days of labor unrest.
The abbreviated season schedule won’t be known before the players’ association ratifies the new collective bargaining agreement this Saturday. Emmerton said when the season does start and the Red Wings return to Joe Louis Arena for the opener, he’ll be elated
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “Obviously it’s been a long time. Skating here in an empty rink – while it’s fun to be here – it’s a whole different feeling when we have the fans like we do here in Detroit.”
Of the 30 current NHL arenas, 25 are less than 20-years-old. The Joe, which opened in 1979, is the fourth oldest building in the league, after Madison Square Garden (1968), Nassau Coliseum (1972) and Rexall Place (1974).
Still, Emmerton, who grew-up outside of London, Ontario, prefers the advantages of playing in comfortable confines of JLA.
“It’s got that classic feel of a rink,” Emmerton said. “Obviously, the newer rinks are amazing and all of the technology and the amenities that they have. But when you’re at The Joe, it feels like you’re there for one reason. You’re there to watch a hockey game and to get the experience to see it in a pretty historic rink that has been around for a long time.”
|Ian White enjoyed a career year last season, playing along side Nicklas Lidstrom. White finished with a plus-23 in 77 games for the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)|
TROY, Mich. – Last season Ian White finished among the top 10 plus-minus defensemen in the league. Certainly, having a future hall-of-famer for a defense partner, helped in White’s achievement as he produced a career-best plus-23 in 77 games.
Prior to his arrive in Detroit last season, White had logged more than 400 NHL games while playing along side such partners as Luke Richardson, Hall Gill, Robyn Regehr and Niclas Wallin.
But last preseason, when White learned that he drew the big straw and would be paired with Nicklas Lidstrom, the former Maple Leafs’ draft pick said that he was, “Probably the luckiest guy in the hockey world,” for having received such an assignment.
But time will tell what’s in store for the eight-year pro and the Red Wings, who enter the abbreviated 2013 season without Lidstrom, one of the league’s all-time best at his craft.
In June, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner announced that he was retiring after 20 seasons in the National Hockey League.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” White said, following Monday’s informal player skate at Troy Sports Center. “Playing with arguably the best defenseman of all-time, it was quite a thrill to have a chance to play with him, quite an honor.”
The Red Wings also lost veteran blueliner Brad Stuart, who signed with San Jose during the offseason, leaving White as the most-experienced NHL defensemen on Detroit’s roster.
“I thought we worked well together, had some big chemistry right from the start,” White said of Lidstrom. “I’ve been used to playing with new guys fairly often, we’ll see who I get to play with.”
As for now, it’s expected that the Wings will have seven defensemen – including Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith – ready for the shortened training camp, which some web site reports have indicated will begin between Saturday and Monday.
Because of the shortened season, White believes that player health and team depth will be crucial components to the Wings’ success.
“We've been skating pretty good for the last few months and that’s probably the best way to avoid injury,” he said. “You look at the NBA when they started last year … I heard lots of guys were getting hurt there just from playing so often and not getting much time for their bones and muscles to heal, so that is definitely going to be an issue. … Hopefully nothing major happens.”
|Big Rapids coach Tim Blashill|
DETROIT – Former Red Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill hopes that a change of scenery could be a good thing for his younger brother and the Big Rapids hockey team.
Seeking their first win of the season, the Cardinals, coached by Tim Blashill, will face-off against Cadillac in a non-conference high school game this afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The game is the first of four prep contests at JLA this week.
The eight teams were originally scheduled to play outdoors at Comerica Park as part of this month’s Winter Festival, which was cancelled by the ongoing NHL lockout.
“I’m real excited for Tim and certainly for his players,” said Jeff Blashill, now the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins. “For his players to hit the ice at Joe Louis and for Tim to be behind the bench at Joe Louis is special.”
Tim Blashill, 36, is no stranger to hockey and to the Big Rapids community. He served six seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at the college in town, Ferris State University, where he worked with his big brother before Jeff departed for greener pastures at Miami University in Ohio. Tim is in his eighth season behind the Cardinals’ bench.
The brothers remain close through a love of hockey and their coaching careers, and it’s not unusual to see Jeff Blashill at Big Rapids games. He was at the first meeting this season, a 3-1 Cadillac win last month in what has become a tradition in the two northern Michigan communities. The annual Thanksgiving Eve game has grown into the 131 Cup Challenge – named for the stretch of U.S. Highway that connects the two small towns.
“I was up at the game this year when they played Cadillac; it didn’t go Big Rapids’ way, but I’ve been at the game when it has gone their way in the past,” Jeff said. “There’s a lot of emotion involved and it’s a real heated rivalry.”
The Blashills both played collegiate hockey; Jeff was a goalie at Ferris and Tim played defense at Fredonia (N.Y.) State. A 1994 graduate of Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) High School, he was a three-sport star in football, baseball and hockey, where he received Most Valuable Defenseman accolades in his senior season.
“The thing with Tim is that he was a tough hockey player, who was a very well-liked team guy,” said Jeff, who is three years old than his younger brother. “I think he has a great demeanor with the players. He’s in charge, but I believe his players enjoy playing for him. It’s great for a high school program and he’s certainly well-suited for that.”
Aside from the Detroit Catholic High School League championships last year, prep games are a rarity at The Joe, which will make Wednesday’s game extraordinary for several young men and their coach.
“I remember the first opportunity that I had to be behind the bench at The Joe,” Jeff Blashill said. “I was with Miami and it’s just a tremendous feeling and Tim and his players will certainly cherish that moment.”
|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.