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POSTED ON Thursday, 04.05.2012 / 12:36 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Darren Helm was back on the ice Thursday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in San Jose on March 17. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
It came as a surprise to Darren Helm, but he was happy to learn that his rehabilitation for his strained left knee was ready to take the next step.

“Before I came in today I wasn’t even sure when I’d be on the ice,” the Red Wings center said. “They wanted me to get on there now, and it felt better than I thought. It’s still a ways a way I think, but it still helps a lot mentally.”

For the first time since his knee-to-knee collision with San Jose’s Dominic Moore at HP Pavilion, Helm was back on the ice Thursday, less than three weeks since the St. Patrick’s Day injury.

The original diagnosis for Helm was 4-6 weeks, which would mean that at the very least he would be sidelined through the first few games of the opening playoff series. So the next few hours will be a big indicator for Helm’s recovery, but if there’s no setback, he could return to the Wings’ lineup sooner than first anticipated.

“Previously they told me probably not Game 1,” Helm said. “So I’m not going to be super angry if it’s not Game 1. Obviously, I want to be back. We have to play it as safe as possible right now. If I re-hurt it, it could be the rest of the year; but at the same time I don’t want to milk it too much. It’s a pretty exciting time and I want to get out there.”

And coach Mike Babcock certain would like for his speedy center back to anchor his aggressive third line.

“We could really use Helmer,” Babcock said. “As everyone knows just in watching us play, we’re not near as good a team without him. We have way less depth, and we don’t come at you near as hard. He can really help our team, and the sooner he’s back the better for us. … It was great to see him out there tooling around.” 

Fitted with a metal brace, Helm skated for nearly an hour without much limitation.

“I think the biggest thing is tomorrow, to see how it feels after this skate,” said Helm, who had nine goals and 17 assists. “If it feels good, we can keep pushing it more each day and I can go out and skate with the team. These last two days I think it made a pretty big jump.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose


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POSTED ON Monday, 04.02.2012 / 2:58 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Red Wings defenseman Ian White visited his White's Warriors guests - Donald and Rose Fritz of Traverse City, Mich. - during Sunday's game at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Alexa Hinds)
Ian White wasn’t much of a history buff while growing up in Steinbach, Manitoba. But by the time he was in his late teens the Red Wings’ defenseman began absorbing stories told by family members of his grandfather’s involve in World War II.

“He was actually pretty quiet about the whole experience, I guess a lot of them are,” White said of his grandpa, who was part of the D-Day invasion on the shores of Normandy with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. “But once you’re old enough to start remembering stuff you hear things for sure.”

It’s those memories that made Sunday’s meet-and-greet with Corporal Donald Fritz even more special.

See for White, who has given a pair of tickets to U.S. and Canadian military personnel for each Wings regular-season home game this season, Sunday’s guest brought home particular thoughts of his grandpa’s war stories.

Like White’s grandpa, Cpl. Fritz – albeit with the U.S. Army’s 306th Military Police Escort Guard – was also in Normandy fighting the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.

Originally assigned to guard Japanese prisoners taken from the Aleutians to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Fritz was later ordered to England, where he landed on Utah Beach on June 8, 1944. Once in France, Fritz’s guard unit oversaw the first POW camp of German prisoners taken from the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, which had been established by the First Ranger Battalion.

In all, Fritz, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next month, participated in three European campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland. His duties included collecting prisoners and establishing camps, where he was responsible for guarding up to 5,000 German prisoners.

Luckily for Donald Fritz and Rose, his wife of 69-years, the two lifelong Wings’ fans didn’t have to wait long before they meet their host. White, who was healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against Florida, surprised the Fritzes with an unscheduled visit to their lower bowl seats during the game.

“He’s obviously a great story and it was great to see him come down here,” White said.

It’s hard to know who enjoyed Sunday’s visit the most, but being the grandson of a WWII veteran is a huge sense of pride for White, who has enjoyed meeting each and every veteran this season.

“Without question, yes, especially when you have a family member who is fighting for the life that we’re allowed to live today is pretty special,” he said. “Pretty much each and every one of their experiences is amazing to hear, whether it was World War II or more recently Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s really hard to imagine what they go through on a daily basis.

“It’s hard to hear what guys are going through every day and how they’re fighting over there and basically sacrificing their lives for our freedoms and our values. It’s tough to say that I could do it, but it’s amazing what they do.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose


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POSTED ON Monday, 03.26.2012 / 7:00 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Jimmy Howard suffered a broken right index finger in early February. He hopes to return from a groin injury this week. (Photo by Getty Images)
Finally!

The Red Wings may likely see three more key players come off of the injury list this week with goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forward Johan Franzen returning to the lineup, hopefully, by Friday.

Ericsson and Franzen both said Monday that they haven’t ruled out Wednesday’s game at Columbus, though Friday’s home game against Nashville is more likely for all three players.

After Monday’s morning skate, coach Mike Babcock was surprised to learn that Ericsson, who has missed 13 games with a fractured left wrist, wasn’t ready to return tonight.

“He was shooting the puck through the end of the rink today,” Babcock said. “But they (team medical staff) keep telling me he's not, so I don't know.”

If the Wings’ injured trio returns no later than Friday it would give them five tune-up games to prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin April 11.

Howard said that his strained groin is feeling better and a return Friday against the Predators is “on the right track.”

“I’ve been working here pretty hard, doing a lot of treatment,” Howard said. “Felt like I can do everything. Now let's see if it holds up. Now continue to keep practicing for a couple of days and we'll see.”

The third piece to the injury puzzle is Franzen, who has had back spasms since he left practice early on March 16.

Franzen had an MRI that was negative, or as he said, “Just looked like an old hockey player's back. Yeah, a 32-year-old hockey player's back.”

Injuries have been a mounting problem for the Wings in the last month with 12 different players missing a total of 85 games due to injury or illness since Feb. 21.



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POSTED ON Tuesday, 03.20.2012 / 2:11 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Former Notre Dame forward Riley Sheahan signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings on Tuesday and will report to Grand Rapids this week. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
The Red Wings signed Riley Sheahan to an amateur tryout Tuesday afternoon.

The Wings’ former first-round draft pick in 2010 finished his junior season at the University of Notre Dame last week when the Fighting Irish were eliminated in the CCHA playoffs.

“He’s a big, strong power forward and very responsible with the puck, good two-way defensively and still has good offensive skills,” Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said.

In three seasons with the Irish, Sheahan collected 20 goals and 44 assists in 114 collegiate games.

The 6-foot-2, 212-pound native of St. Catharine’s, Ontario will finish out the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings’ top minor-league affiliate in the American Hockey League.

“It’s obviously very exciting just to be in the organization and around all of these great players and I’ll just have to work my way up, and in a few years maybe get a chance to play in the big league," said Sheahan, who was studying sociology in South Bend. “Leaving Notre Dame was a tough decision. I made a lot of close friends there, met a lot of really nice people, but I think it was time to move on. My focus is on being a hockey player and I think the better atmosphere for that he being here.”

Though he averaged 21-points per season at the college level, Sheahan was a dynamite offensive weapon in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League where he had 49 goals and 85 assists in two seasons.
 
“That’s a little bit with the style of the team that he played on, college hockey is very tight, defensively and that’s kind of the style that you see down there,” Nill said. “He’s had a history of being a scorer ever since he was in Tier II.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill


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POSTED ON Saturday, 03.17.2012 / 5:26 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Mike Babcock played Pebble Beach last week, where this stunning house, which is for sale for $79 million, is next to the 10th green. (Photo by Carmel Reality Company)
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Seems odd for a guy who has hunted buffalo in Tanzania and coached championship hockey teams at every level, but Red Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn’t have a list of things that he wants to do before he dies.

However, if Babcock did have a bucket list, playing golf at world-famous Pebble Beach on California’s Monterey Peninsula, probably would be on it – but not anymore.

Last Thursday morning, Babcock and assistant coaches Bill Peters and Jeff Blashill played the challenging 7,040-yard golf course.

“I was outstanding as always. I live for golf like you have no idea; no I really don’t like golf really,” Babcock joked. “I liked going to Pebble Beach, it was a fantastic day and it was a good thing to do on an off-day just to get away from what’s going on. In saying that when I went to the San Jose-Nashville game at night I was right back to where I was before I golfed.”

The coaching trio traveled to northern California ahead of the team following Wednesday’s 4-0 loss at Anaheim in order to play the course, which Golf Digest calls the sixth-best course in the America.

While Babcock’s respectable 21 under par round doesn’t pale in comparison to rounds shot by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods or Graeme McDowell, who all won U.S. Open championships at Pebble Beach, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that the Wings’ coach won't soon forget.

“It was a one and only, unless you’re going to lend me the cash,” said Babcock, of the $530 greens fees.

But besides playing one of the most majestic courses in the world, Babcock was spellbound by the stone chateau – once owned by actor Gene Hackman – for sale near the 10th green.

“I enjoyed it very much, it was an impressive place,” Babcock said. “I was very impressed with the house that was for sale for $79 million. I thought that was great.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill



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POSTED ON Friday, 03.16.2012 / 6:02 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Coach Mike Babcock is hopeful that the return of Pavel Datsyuk will help jump-start the Red Wings' offense. (Photo by Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Fighting for its playoff lives in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks won’t find any sympathy from the Red Wings, who, with 11 games remaining, are trying to hold onto the No. 4 seed in the standings.

“We’ve talked about these teams that are desperate teams,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You know it’s interesting, from where I sit as a coach, I don’t know who could be more desperate than us. I don’t even begin to understand that. If you’re playing well and everything is going good, maybe they could be more desperate. But if you’re a group like we are right now and you’re trying to get your game back, to me, there’s no one who should be more desperate than us.”

There’s no need to look beyond the current health situation to understand the Wings’ desperation. Since Feb. 20, when Pavel Datsyuk underwent knee surgery, nine of his teammates have missed time with injury or illness. The latest is forward Johan Franzen (back spasms), who may miss sidelined for Saturday’s game against the Sharks at HP Pavilion. 

While Datsyuk’s return is good news, losing Franzen is more adversity that the Wings don’t need as they try to tune-up for a long playoff run this spring. Without Datsyuk, the Wings have posted a 3-7-1 record and the power play has suffered mightily, garnering three goals in the last 44 attempts.

Because injuries have forced the Wings to juggle lines, thus messing with continuity and chemistry, Babcock would like to see his team get back to the basics.

“I went to the (Sharks) game last night and Nashville scored a power-play goal on a simple down and in, threw it in,” he said. “San Jose shot the puck, had a man in the middle and tipped and came right to a guy and they shot it right into the net. No different than a lot of the things we’re doing, but the puck’s not going into the net for us, so that’s usually confidence, and we just have to keep plugging away and working. Obviously, Pavel back would really help.”
 
The Sharks, like the other two teams on this California trip, are on the outside looking in at the playoffs. But if the Wings learned anything in back-to-back losses at Los Angeles and Anaheim this week – by a combined 9-2 score – it’s that they can’t look past the Sharks.

“They’re like every team,” Babcock said, of the Sharks. “Right now, in their last three games they’ve worked real hard, they’ve limited the other team’s opportunity, they’ve gotten the pucks to the net, their power play is relentless on retrieval, they get the puck back. They’ve got a good team.

“It should be a heck of a hockey game. They’ve got points in three straight with five (points) out of a possible six points.”
 
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill





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POSTED ON Thursday, 03.15.2012 / 2:52 AM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Sen. John McCain and his former presidential running mate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin displays a Red Wings jersey given to her as a gift during a campaign event at the Freedom Hill Ampitheatre in Sterling Heights, Michigan in Sept. 2008. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, Calif. – In HBO’s recently released film adaptation of the 2008 presidential election, actress Julianne Moore, who plays former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, sports a Red Wings’ home jersey in one lengthy scene.

She also is seen wearing Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers jerseys. But the better of the three sweaters, clearly, is the Wings’ jersey which also received the most air time in the made-for-cable movie.

Palin, who coined herself as “America’s Hockey Mom”, was given hockey jerseys as gifts wherever she appeared along the campaign trial as she traveled the U.S. in her bid for the White House as the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Palin received a Wings jersey before she and GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain addressed a rally at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights, Michigan on Sept. 5, 2008 (see photo).

But it’s in the movie “Game Change” that Moore – as Palin – wears a red Wings jersey during a debate rehearsal outside on Sen. MacCain’s Arizona estate.

However, the eye-popping moment occurs when the scene switches to a different camera angle which reveals a No. 40 on the back of the jersey.

Now since there’s no name on the back of the jersey (at least in the movie), and the six Wings players, including Henrik Zetterberg, to ever represent the number aren’t American, it’s easy to surmise that the Wings' latest star is the intended honoree, and not Bill Ranford, Mark Major, Jason York, Gord Kruppke or Rogie Vachon, who all wore the number prior to Zetterberg.

“Of course, it’s Z, he’s a rock star,” said goalie Jimmy Howard, one of four Americans on the current Wings’ roster.

It’s not known if the jersey that Palin received on the sun-shiny afternoon had a number on it, or why the movie’s costume directors made the decision to include the number. We may never know the answer, but it sure was fun to see the love for Zetterberg, whether it was intended or not.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill


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POSTED ON Monday, 03.12.2012 / 9:45 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Nicklas Lidstrom hopes to return to the Red Wings' lineup soon and rejoin his defensive partner Ian White. (Photo by Getty Images)
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – You can just tell by his voice that he’s feed-up with answering the questions about the injury that has forced him to miss six consecutive games, and will likely keep him out of the lineup for at least another two.

The level of frustration is understandable, especially since Nicklas Lidstrom and injuries are rarely used in the same sentence. But the ankle injury is forcing Lidstrom to go somewhere he’s never gone.

“I didn't think it was going to take this long,” Lidstrom said of his sore right ankle. “I thought I was going to be back earlier. It's been lingering, it hasn't been getting any better, so it's getting a little bit frustrating.”

The seven-time Norris Trophy winner was injured when he was struck by a puck on the outside of the ankle on Feb. 25. The play was innocent enough, when Colorado’s Jan Hedja rimmed a center ice shot around the back of the Wings’ net. But the puck took an odd bounce, clipping the Wings’ star defenseman high on the right boot.

On Monday, Lidstrom tried to skate in full gear for the first time in nearly 2 ½ weeks, but the soreness crept in pretty quickly forcing him off the ice before the Wings’ practice got underway at the Toyota Sports Center.

“I tried it a few days ago. It was better today, I could do a few laps but still not where I want it to be to be able to play a game or practice with the guys,” he said. “It's day-by-day right now. Just have to wait and see, hopefully it gets better every day.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock has already counted Lidstrom out for the next two games – Tuesday at Los Angeles and Wednesday at Anaheim – meaning the 41-year-old will have missed nine games – counting the Montreal game when he had the flu – which, unfortunately, is a single-season personal low for him.

The longest stretch that Lidstrom has missed in any one season is six games after he fell awkwardly on his knee following a body check – oddly enough against the Avalanche – in February 2008. Until this season, six was also the most games he ever missed in a season.

Tuesday’s game will be the 42nd game, including Stanley Cup playoffs, which Lidstrom has missed in his 20-season career. And one of those was to serve an NHL suspension for not fulfilling an obligation at the 2009 All-Star Game.

The ankle continues to be problem and sometimes walking has been a source of discomfort. But the biggest obstacle seems to be with the pressure caused by the boot once the laces are tied, Lidstrom said.

However, he is optimistic of a possible return during this trip with an eye on San Jose Saturday in the final game of the Wings’ three-game swing through California.

“You want to get a skate or two good skates in before you're able to play again," Lidstrom said. “I'm hoping to play quite a few games before the playoffs. It'll help to get back into game-shape again and in the long run you hope the rest will help, everyone that's out right now, to help us get a long run in the playoffs.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill



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POSTED ON Friday, 03.09.2012 / 5:14 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

Jimmy Howard believes that he'll be back sooner from his groin injury than Todd Bertuzzi (R) will be from his groin injury. (Photo by Getty Images)
There was a distinct aura around Jimmy Howard as he talked about his groin injury, which beckoned good news for the Red Wings Friday morning.

“Everything’s feeling back to normal,” said Howard, who was on the ice prior to the team’s morning skate at Joe Louis Arena.
Howard hasn’t played since leaving last Sunday’s game after the first period against Chicago. On Monday, an ultrasound was performed, but tests were negative.

Howard’s rosy optimism Friday was in far contrast from his low-key hopes of a quick recovery when he first suffered the injury.
 “I think we nipped it in the bud pretty quickly there,” Howard said. “We were able to get treatment right away. That’s probably saved us some time.”

The plan is for Howard to go to Nashville with the Wings and participate in Saturday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena. If all works out, a return to the lineup could come as early as Tuesday in Los Angeles, Howard said.

“I feel a lot better. It’s getting better every single day,” he said. “Skated yesterday, skated today, took some shots. Hopefully, tomorrow, I’ll share a net. Then practice Monday in L.A.

“We just want to take all the precautions and make sure everything is healed up, with it being so close to playoffs.”

Meanwhile, Todd Bertuzzi practiced Friday morning, but based on how he felt, the veteran forward said he may miss more games after Friday’s home game with the Los Angeles Kings.

“It's still not as strong as I want it to be,” said Bertuzzi, who will miss his second straight game Friday.

Asked if Saturday’s game in Nashville was a possibility, Bertuzzi said, “I don't know. I got to see how it is, still got to do some stuff with the trainers. But if that (skate) was any indication then I need a little bit more (time) than that.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 03.07.2012 / 3:57 PM
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com / The Wheel Deal

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Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall will not be suspended or fined for his devastating hit on Flyers forward Jakub Voracek, an NHL official told The Wheel Deal blog.

Kronwall drew plenty of attention from the Flyers and their fans when midway through the second period he delivered a shoulder check that caught Voracek squarely in the head.

As a dazed Voracek lay on the ice – blood dripping from his mouth and his rigid arms momentarily motionless over his head – the Wells Fargo Center crowd fell quiet. The hit knocked Voracek out of the game and caused tempers to percolate between the teams.

Following Tuesday’s game, Kronwall said that he felt the hit was legal like many of his other trademark collisions this season against Edmonton’s Ales Hemsky, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and Flyers’ Daniel Briere.

It’s hard to imagine Brendan Shanahan, the league’s vice president of player safety, levying supplementary discipline against Kronwall since he didn’t leave his feet to deliver the hit. And while the head was the first point of contact, Voracek appeared to be slumped forward at the time of the collision.

According to the league official, Voracek’s head might have been seen as the principal point of contact, but only because it was the initial point of contact, and not due to Kronwall targeting the head but in the nature that Voracek approached the Wings’ defenseman.

There still remain some hits in the league where a player’s head – by nature of the way the player receiving the hit – dips, ducks, turns or moves just prior to contact with a legal check.

Kronwall did not leave his feet or lift an elbow, and he was not assessed a penalty for the hit, which according to the league was the correct call on the ice.

There have been no fewer than 17 players on a growing list of Kronwall victims that includes Dany Heatley, Teemu Selanne, Evander Kane, Radek Bonk, Vinny Prospal, Tim Jackman, and Ryan Clowe, who has been crushed on two separate occasions by the 6-foot, 190-pound blue liner.

Then there’s the gigantic hit that turned Kronwall’s name into a verb when he knocked out Chicago’s Martin Havlat during Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference finals.

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Daily News called Kronwall’s hit on Voracek one of the “most gruesome hits in recent Flyers memory”, ranking it with Scott Stevens’ colossal brain-jarring shot on Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals.

It’s tough, if not completely off base, to compare Kronwall to Stevens, after all, Kronwall has never been suspended in his 7 ½-plus season career.

Instead of trying to find fault in Kronwall’s hits, when will opposing forwards learn to protect themselves and skate with their head up when he’s on the ice? Instead of reactively running at Kronwall after he’s already blown-up a guy, perhaps forwards need to be smarter about retrieving pucks along the half wall in their own zone.

Kronwall’s motive seems to be the same with every big hit: The opposition rims the puck around the boards and a forward tries to gather in the pass for a breakout of the defensive zone. But it’s usually when the forward looks down at his feet for the puck, and he’s pounded by an anticipating Kronwall who slides down from the point to drop a big, clean hit.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill


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