DETROIT – Maria Lushima started her third week as a DTE Energy employee in style.
The Russian-born hockey fan couldn’t believe the email communication that colleagues received when they arrived for the start of the work week on Monday morning.
“I saw it in the morning and I just came downstairs … immediately!” said Lushima, who is a huge Pavel Datsyuk fan. “I’m still shaking. I’m so excited.”
The employees were treated to a visit by four Red Wings, who greeted them in the atrium of the company’s headquarters in downtown Detroit.
Forward Johan Franzen and defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser distributed hundreds of pocket schedules, signed some autographs and posed for a few photos with the employees as they arrived to work. In return, the players received plenty of well-wishes from their fans, who were obviously pleased to see their Hockeytown Heroes in-person.
Last week, employees were told that they could wear Red Wings’ gear as a way to celebrate the start of the new season, which begins with Wednesday’s season-opener against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena. However, the players’ appearance – done in conjunction with the Wings’ one-day initiative called ‘Hockeytown Thanks’ to spread goodwill throughout the community; and to say ‘Thank You’ to their business partners in southeastern Michigan – was not pre-promoted to employees.
Throughout the day the Wings dispatched 24 different players to eight businesses in metro Detroit, including a visit by Jakub Kindl, Justin Abdelkader, Kyle Quincey and Stephen Weiss to the Troy-Mich., headquarters of Flagstar Bank, where the quartet served ice cream to employees.
Having spend the first 10 seasons of his pro career with the Florida Panthers, Weiss is no stranger to community outreach programs initiated by NHL clubs. Though, Monday’s event at Flagstar was a first for the veteran centerman.
“I’ve handed out turkeys and gift baskets, but never ice cream,” Weiss said. “We did quite a bit of stuff, always stuff at the holidays and a lot of school visits, similar stuff with visiting sponsors and hospital visits.”
The event was also a good way for Weiss to get acclimated with new teammates.
“Anytime you can do these types of team-building things and spend an extra hour or two with the guys it’s good for me being the new guy,” he said. “It helps me get to know some of these guys a little bit better.”
The other Wings were at a Little Caesars location in Plymouth, MotorCity Casino Hotel and Jimmy Johns in Detroit, Fifth Third Bank in Southfield, Comerica Bank in Auburn Hills, and Carhartt in Dearborn.
The players enjoy spending time with their fans as a way to give back to the community that supports them throughout the season. At DTE Energy, the players were impressed by the incredible turnout.
“They definitely went all out for us,” DeKeyser said. “Just the line of people, I couldn’t see the end of it … that was pretty special, so when we can do something like that for them it’s our pleasure.”
As for the DTE Energy employees like Lushima, who works in the Controllers Department, the tour stop has her excited for the upcoming season, as well as the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I’m excited for the season, but both probably,” said Lushima, who now lives in Canton, Mich.
While it was fun to meet the players and snap a few photographs, Lushima said she wishes Datsyuk had been part of the group that visited DTE.
“He’s my favorite Red Wings,” she said. “He’s very confident and he’s not trying to show off, so he’s always playing his best.”
The visit to DTE was equally as fun for the players, Kronwall said.
“It was something different that I’ve never done before,” he said. “It’s always fun to see surprised, happy faces.”
The morning visit by the players is an astounding gesture on the part of the Wings’ organization, said David Meador, DTE executive vice president and chief financial officer.
“To have these guys come out and shake hands with our employees is a huge deal,” said Meador, who has been with DTE since 1997. “Hockey is big in Detroit, as you know, and we’re a big downtown employer, so there’s a lot of excitement about what’s going on in Detroit and sports is one of them.”
Based on the hundreds of employees, who walked into the atrium with their surprised looks and bright smiles, the Wings’ unannounced visit was a resounding success.
“I didn’t know who would be here,” Meador said. “I run a non-profit Autism foundation that Niklas is involved with us on, so I was just thrilled to see that he was here.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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