Plenty to see, do and read at Wings' training camp
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- For most of the year, this resort community on Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay is best known for golf, sailing, fishing, beachcombing and other outdoor recreation. But for one week in mid-September, the most exciting action here seems to be happening indoors.
Each autumn for the past 10 years, the Detroit Red Wings have been bringing their fall prospects tournament and training camp to the Traverse City’s Centre ICE Arena. For that brief time, Traverse City is transformed into Hockeytown North where hundreds of fans from the U.S. and Canada come to watch and meet players from Detroit and seven other major hockey franchises in what may be the sport’s most “up close and personal” events.
“Last year we had people travel here from 38 states and Canada, and we always end up selling out for all the events,” says organizer Pete Correia, who persuaded the Red Wings to bring their fall camp to Traverse City in 1997. “Back when they held it at Joe Louis in Detroit, only a handful of people would show up.”
At first, Traverse City’s hotels and resorts were slow to recognize the potential of the camp and tournament, but many now offer packages and special rates to fans, including the Great Wolf Lodge (whose laundry department cleans players’ uniforms each day for free) is offering specials rates, plus a free copy of the children’s book “ABCs of Detroit Red Wings Hockey” to the first 40 families that book a stay during the September 14-18 camp.
Other hotels with special hockey-related deals include the Traverse Bay Lodge, the Holiday Inn West Bay, and the local Days Inn & Suites.
The camp’s popularity may have something to do with the scenic beauty and casual “Up North” atmosphere of the Traverse City area. But it’s also at least partly due to the relaxed and friendly nature of the events themselves. Fans who travel to Hockeytown North can easily find themselves staying in the same hotel or sharing a table at a local nightspot with members of a visiting team; it’s easy to strike up a conversation, and even easier to get an autograph.
The Red Wings training camp, which begins Sept. 14, features as many as 60 players divided into three separate training teams. During the first three days of the camp, players work out and play intra-squad games, culminating in a traditional Red & White game on Sept. 17 and a unique four-on-four intra-squad game on Sept. 18. Tickets for all the events are priced deliberately low ($15 for daily workouts, $25 for the Red & White game and $10 for the last-day four-on-four game (which includes a hot dog and soda.)
Just as popular – and even less expensive – is the annual NHL prospects tournament that precedes the Red Wings camp. Started in 1998 with four teams, the tournament now includes hot prospects from seven teams in addition to Detroit: the Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rink manager Terry Marchand says he enjoys the tournament even more than the chance to watch the Wings at practice.
“Year in and year out, this is truly the best hockey you can see anywhere,” he says. “These are eight NHL teams bringing in their top prospects to show what they can do. It’s intense, because these guys are young and hungry, and each one of them is literally fighting to prove he can do the job. You can see four games in a single night and it’ll cost you a whole five bucks.”
Since Centre ICE has two sheets of ice, there’s action going on almost incessantly during the tournament and the training camp, and spectators are allowed to wander back and forth between rinks during the day. Also, the facility has no rules against fans taking their own photographs; in fact, cameras are encouraged.
WHAT ELSE TO DO: Just because the town is filled with hockey players doesn’t mean that Traverse City’s normal amenities are on hold. Au contraire! In most years September weather is balmy and gentle, with warm days and cool nights – perfect for sight-seeing, excursions to the area’s many beautiful wineries, and hiking or cycling along the beautiful shore of Grand Traverse Bay, whose water is usually warm enough for swimming.
Traverse City nightlife picks up when the Wings are in town, too – particularly in the clubs along Union Street in downtown and the new Warehouse District. And those who appreciate good things to eat and drink might want to check out the Traverse Epicurean Classic, a three-day celebration of food and wine artisanship scheduled for Sept. 13-15, with international food and wine-tastings, cooking classes, demonstrations, dinners, winery tours and other events.