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Wings prep for Opening Night

Wednesday, 10.08.2008 / 4:15 PM / Features
By Michael Caples  - Detroit Red Wings Staff Writer
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Wings prep for Opening Night
DETROIT -- Thursday the NHL kicks off a season-opening party unlike any other.  Rock legend Def Leppard will kick-off the 2008-09 hockey season with their hockey-inspired hit single “C’mon, C’mon”.  Then the Red Wings will kick-off the new season with Original Six rival the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then Def Leppard, along with seven-time Grammy winner Alanis Morissette, will rock the Fox Theater in a collaboration concert after the final buzzer. And yes, at some point Hockeytown will celebrate their recent post-season success, by raising another giant banner to the Joe Louis Arena rafters before the opening face-off.

However, the raising of another Stanley Cup champions banner will serve as both an ending of a party, and a beginning of another nine-month struggle. It will close out the summer festivities with Lord Stanley’s Cup, and at the same time, open up a new campaign to keep the oldest trophy in professional sports around for another year.

It’s back to work.

The Red Wings are now staring down 82 new games, with an even larger target on their backs. Eighty-two games full of checks into the boards, slashes to the wrists, and pucks to the ankles – all in hopes that they can play even more games come April. 

Though it does help when coach Mike Babcock has arguably the most talented team in the NHL. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, then during the off-season kept the team nearly fully-assembled, and added superstar Marian Hossa and goalie Ty Conklin.

“We've maintained the same group and probably added more talent -- well, not probably,” Babcock said. “We've added more talent.”

But make no mistake about it, Babcock will have forgotten all about the banner raisings and the ring distributions by 7 p.m. Thursday. It’s all about the season in front of him, the quest for a team to repeat as Stanley Cup champs since the Wings did it in 1997 and 1998.

“But there's no question that it's hard to win the Stanley Cup; it was hard to win it last year, it's going to be hard to win it this year,” he said. “Whether or not a Cup hangover has anything to do with that, I'm not sure. But we have done everything we can to re-establish our work ethic and our structure here at training camp, and we're excited about one more day to prepare and then get at her.”

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said when the Red Wings take the ice against the Maple Leafs, Babcock will have them fully prepared to fight through the famous ‘Stanley Cup hangover’, whether it’s real or not.

“As far as the Cup hangover, Mike has talked to our team since the first day of training camp about the importance of everything we do has nothing to do with last year. It's a new year, it's a fresh year, and we've got to stay focused on the moment, the job at hand, and we've got to build just like we did last year.”

The Red Wings’ masterminds aren’t the only people thinking the Wings have a viable shot at a repeat; hockey’s top NHL analysts are calling for it as well. The Hockey News poll of 40 of their team correspondents, hockey journalists and THN staff, and the Red Wings snagged half the votes, with second place receiving only eight votes. The Winged Wheel is sitting comfortably at the top of the power polls on the sportingnews.com and tsn.ca. Thirty-two percent of fans on espn.com’s SportsNation think the Red Wings will repeat, with Philadelphia in second with 10 percent. Marian Hossa is standing tall on the cover of the Oct. 13 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Oh yeah, and the legendary Don Cherry is throwing in his support for Hockeytown as well.

“I see no weakness in them at all,” the legendary ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ analyst said.  “Osgood is just as good as ever … you like to have something that you could say that there's Babcock's doing a great job.  I mean, there's nothing.  There's nothing wrong with them.  So they look to be    if you're betting, you got to bet on Detroit again this year.”

Versus and NBC analyst Ed Olczyk had high words of praise for the Red Wings along with Cherry, saying that Detroit is “the class of the NHL.”

“I think Detroit is Detroit,” Olczyk said. “I mean, they are the envy, in my opinion, of every sports franchise that there is. They do things the right way. They signed the right guys. They take some risks. They bring their players along slowly. Just everything that has gone on there.  Hey, don't forget, it hasn't always been that way.  So, I mean, they've found a way to do it.”

After today’s practice, Babcock reiterated his stance that when tomorrow comes, it’s all about the upcoming season, not the past. But he did say he’s going to enjoy a little bit of the festivities.

“I’m gonna try to really enjoy the ceremony,” Babcock said. “If it was up to me, we wouldn’t have that, we’d drop the puck. But that’s just the coach in me speaking. The guy who won the cup is going to cherish the opportunity to see it happen, and so are our players - and they deserve it and our fans deserve it.

“So you know, we just got to get through the ceremony and make sure we’re focused enough. After tomorrow you’re either one up or one down, it’s just that simple. The ceremony tomorrow is about last year, and we’re living in this year, so it’s time to move on.”


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