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Wings head to great outdoors

Team to hold outdoor practice in southwest Detroit

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:36 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor |
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Wings head to great outdoors
Al Sobotka shaved more than 15 loads of ice off the rink at Clark Park in preparation for the Red Wings' outdoor practice. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)
DETROIT – For the first time in eight decades the Red Wings will head outdoors for a team practice in a Detroit neighborhood.

As part of USA Hockey’s annual “Hockey Weekend Across America” the Wings will hold an open practice at Clark Park in Mexicantown on the city’s southwest side this Saturday.

“I think practicing outdoors in front of our fans will be a fun experience,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve done it before with Wrigley, obviously, but it’s always fun when you can get outside and get to the root of the game. It’ll be a good time for us to enjoy and hopefully the fans will be there to see how we actually go through a practice.”

The Wings will make their first-ever visit to Clark Park as a team. Nicklas Lidstrom, Jimmy Howard and Brian Rafalski have all visited for different marketing initiatives, but whenever Joe Louis Arena hasn’t been available in the past, the Wings have typically used City Sports Arena on the city’s east side.

While most of the Wings participated in the 2009 Winter Classic and the outdoor practice at Wrigley Field on New Year’s Eve, for some, Saturday will be the first time they’ve been part of an organized outdoor team practice in years.

Before the club's nickname was changed to Red Wings, the Detroit Cougars, then the Detroit Falcons, would occassionally practice on an outdoor rink at Detroit Northwestern High, across the street from Olympia Stadium.

But when the Red Wings were bumped for the circus or concert, the team would travel to Ann Arbor where they would practice at Yost Arena on the University of Michigan campus.

“I don't know if I've had practice outdoors, professionally,” forward Drew Miller said. “It's been a long time, since I was a kid. Hopefully it doesn't rain. The big thing right now is the weather.”

According to The Weather Channel, temperatures Saturday in Detroit will be in the high-30s with a 20 percent chance of snow showers. The 45-minute practice is set to begin at 12 p.m.

The weather hasn’t been a very good cooperative partner this week, but Al Sobotka, the Wings’ resident Zamboni driver, spent a few days getting the rink ready by shaving several inches of excess ice from the surface.
The Red Wings will practice outside in Detroit for the first time since the Cougars used to head outdoors.

Asked about the experience of taking his team outdoors, Wings coach Mike Babcock hadn't given it much thought before he was asked about it Friday morning. But Babcock did ask his son, a junior forward on the varsity hockey team at Detroit Catholic Central High School, about the conditions at Clark Park, which is located in one of the city’s oldest and most-neglected neighborhoods.

“It's a big practice for us,” Babcock said. “We're going to play San Jose the next day, so it's important that we can get out there and actually practice. But I think anytime you can do anything outdoors it's fun, plus I understand the community is involved. There's going to be some people there, and that gives you energy, which I think is important.”

The Wings expect that a few thousand fans will attend the outdoor event, and one player suggests that fans bring a hearty appetite, especially if they like Mexican cuisine. There are several Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, including Armando’s, Mexican Village and Xochimilco (pronounced so-she-MIL-co).

“I would recommend it, yeah, I would recommend it,” said defenseman Mike Commodore, of Mexican Village. “It’s the only Mexican place that I’ve eaten here. I’m used to good Mexican because I’ve spent time in San Diego, so I’m a little bit spoiled like that. But it was good. … Maybe I’ll have some after we practice.”





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