Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 09/22/10 at 03:17 AM ET
Updated w/ links at end of post at 9:57 AM: As I write my final entry from my hotel room in Traverse City, MI, it’s highly likely that the only members of the Red Wings’ organization still awake are the coaches and equipment staff. After the the Red team defeated the White team 5-3 over the course of 2 25-minute periods on Tuesday, the Wings’ players posed for a group photo with the people that make “Hockeytown North’s” Red Wings prospect tournament and training camp work—the volunteers who give endless hours of their time, energy and effort to make camp happen—and they talked to the media, showered, changed and got on buses or in their cars and joined the caravan of vehicles immediately departing for Joe Louis Arena, where the Wings will practice at 9:30 AM on Wednesday before taking a solid roster (click for the roster; Chris Osgood will start but not finish the game, but Kris Draper’s still out as he recovers from a groin injury) to Pittsburgh and open the Consol Energy Center against a stacked Penguins team at 7 PM. After that they’ll play seven more exhibition games over the course of eleven nights, and open the regular season on October 3rd.
It ended in a flourish and a flash. By 3:30 this afternoon, attendants were cleaning the stands and concourses and youth hockey players who are beginning seasons of their own were starting to filter into the rink for early-evening games. The players were gone, the media had filed their stories and were leaving town as well, and as I left the rink, the “day shift’s” worth of orange-painted HH-65 Dolphin helicopters were coming in from their patrols and landing at the Coast Guard’s Traverse City Air Station. As I looked back at Centre Ice Arena for one last time, a line of wooden barricades that had held back five-person-deep lines of fans stretching five hundred feet long looked hopelessly out of place, and I looked down at my battle-scarred media pass and lanyard (you learn why players rip the labels off of Gatorade bottles before drinking from them very, very quickly) and realized that it was nothing more than a souvenir.
I’ve been here in Traverse City for eleven days now and still have yet to see any part of the city but the hotel, the rink and the grocery store near the rink, so I think I’ll double back and drive past the waterfront before leaving. To some extent, I don’t want this time to end, but hockey’s in my bones, and I can sure as hell feel that the Red Wings are far, far away, which feels very wrong to someone whose spent his entire life within a fifty-mile radius of Joe Louis Arena.
I hope you’ve enjoyed, or at least tolerated my reports, sharing some of the details of my own journey walking across the line that separates hockey writer and hockey fan over the better part of two weeks, and if you haven’t, don’t worry: Paul’s forbade me from posting on Wednesday so that I can drive home and get the much-needed sleep I’ve been missing, and after that, I’ll try to be a little more professional, but the whole point of me being here was that the Kukla’s Korner community paid for someone who’s anything but professional to attend training camp as a fan, and that’s how I wanted to share a chapter of a personal and professional progression that I believe is just beginning.
This is merely the end of the first chapter, and if the fatigue’s showing in my writing, it’s reflected in my reporting tonight. We’ll start the “hybrid coverage” of the last day of training camp and the Red Wings’ exhibition season with stories I very literally wasn’t there to hear being crafted. As the Mainstream Media did what they do—consolidate into a pack and chase down quotes and stories so that they could recount the day’s events and head home, I waited patiently for Ruslan Salei to undress while he gave me a much-needed lecture about the fact that talking to people with sound recorders in their hands is part of his job, so I shouldn’t feel guilty about bothering him when he’s hot and sweaty. I then did my best to stick my sound recorder into Mike Babcock’s media scrum, headed to the other locker room and had a conversation with Brian Lashoff that I didn’t record because we were plain old talking, spoke to Jordan Owens—who, it turns out, plays a major role in today’s MSM reports—talked to Pavel Datsyuk briefly and wrapped up my day with a conversation with a kindred spirit in Tomas Holmstrom, who talked about everything from the state of his knees to why his hockey stick has one horizontal stripe of tape on the blade and what he does to scout goaltenders as someone who does, as it turns out, try to think like a goaltender when he’s sticking his butt in their faces and trying to tip pucks past them.
The Red Wings picked up 24-year-old, 6’1,” 190-lb forward Jordan Owens from the New York Rangers deal as a sort of throw-in when the Grand Rapids Griffins cut ties with Kris Newbury, who simply didn’t work out in Grand Rapids. Owens has some scoring chops but makes his living as a forechecking grinder, and, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness notes, Owens made an impression on the most important person in the building (he watched the game from the rink’s one and only suite, and proceeded downstairs to break down the game with the acting coaches, Paul MacLean and Curt Fraser for the red team, and Jim Paek and Brad McCrimmon for the white team, between periods):
“He’s not going to make our hockey club,” Babcock said after the Red & White scrimmage Tuesday afternoon at Centre I.C.E. Arena in Traverse City. “But, I didn’t know who he was (before) and now I do. That’s a good camp. If you would have asked me who was going to be on the Red & White roster at the start of camp, he would not have been on it,” Babcock added. “He made his way into that opportunity.”
“He played with real good energy and real good speed,” Babcock said. “He was tenacious. That’s good for him.”
Owens charged between too-widely-spaced Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson, skated in alone on Joey MacDonald, backed him into the net, and roofed the puck over him—to score his third goal in three scrimmages—but that’s not necessarily Owens’ game, and he knows that the bodychecks and battles won for the puck along the boards are what endeared him to Babcock:
“I’m pretty happy with the way camp went,” Owens said. “It ended up being pretty successful, scoring a few goals, but I don’t even think about that. I just go out and try and compete as hard as I can and I hope everything works out.”
As Pleiness notes, Owens played alongside Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm, who were nothing less than dynamic both offensively and defensively during the game, and Owens had a helluva time doing so:
“I don’t look too far into those types of things, but it was definitely exciting to play with some fulltime NHLers,” Owens said. “It’s exciting. Those are guys I look up to and they’re my role models. I want to be like those guys. If I try and imitate those guys I think I’ll do pretty well. I look around the room and it’s hard to picture yourself making the team out of camp,” Owens added. “Wherever I am I just try and compete as hard as I can no matter where I’m playing.”
DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose also spoke to Babcock about Owens...
“He’s not going to make our hockey club,” Babcock said, “but to me I didn’t know who he was, but now I do. So that’s a good camp. He played with real good energy, he played with real good speed and he was tenacious. The other thing I liked about it is if you would have asked what the Red & White line-up was before the start of camp, he wouldn’t have been in it. He worked his way into that opportunity, so good for him.”
I can best describe the young man as incredibly hard-working and accommodating on my behalf because I talked to him a good fifteen minutes after the MSM got to him, and he was polite as could be:
“I’m pretty happy with the way camp went,” said Owens, who had a goal in each of the camp’s intra-squad scrimmages leding up to Tuesday. “It was short-lived, but tough. Every day is a grind, and I ended up being pretty successful in camp scoring a few goals, but I don’t really think about it. I just want to work as hard as I can and hope that everything works out.”
Babcock’s also liked what he saw from the player who continues to get plastered to the boards because he’s still adjusting to the pace of professional hockey, but has, over the course of the past three prospect camps and now his first prospect tournament, adjusted to the pro game from a preparatory standpoint (i.e. he’s grown up), as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes:
“He has the ability to be a gamebreaker,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Gamebreakers have a tendency to want to break the game (open) all the time. As you become a pro you realize you (need to be) patient. Lots of shifts nothing happens and you wait for your opportunity and then you take advantage of it and then you don’t get yourself in trouble because you’re not forcing things. He’s a kid and he’ll get it figured out.’’
Smith suggested that he acquitted himself well as a leader during the prospect tournament and an up-and-comer during the main camp…
“I’m pretty happy with how I did,’’ Smith said.
But he’s starting to figure out that he has some learning and growing to do—on the ice:
He said he was impressed by “the speed and the skill of the guys around here and how everybody holds themselves. They’re all professionals and there’s things I got to learn to be a professional within some time. So I’m just watching them taking some tips.’’
“Skill-wise, these guys are unbelievable,’’ Smith said. “You make a bad pass and they’re picking it up in stride no matter where you throw it.’’
So far, so good, as Pleiness noted:
“He’s going to be a really good player,” Babcock said. “I like his disposition. He’s got a lot of upside.”
As Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji noted, Babcock also understands that Smith needs some mentoring, so he gave Smith a talking to after the game:
“I could tell by his body language he was upset with the turnover he made,” Babcock said. “I said you don’t have to show anybody what you’re thinking. You’re going to turn the puck over sometimes but trying to do too much all the time isn’t the right way. Be patient. He’s going to be a really good player and I like his disposition and I like he’s pushing himself, he wants to be a player. He’s got a lot of upside. I’m very impressed.”
As for the game itself, whose rosters break down as follows…
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Mattias Ritola-Justin Abdelkader-Drew Miller
Jordan Owens-Darren Helm-Patrick Eaves
Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson-Kirk Maltby
Nicklas Lidstrom-Niklas Kronwall
Doug Janik-Brendan Smith
Brian Lashoff-Derek Meech
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi
Jiri Hudler-Mike Modano-Dan Cleary
Francis Pare-Cory Emmerton-Jan Mursak
Ilari Filppula-Jamie Johnson-Aaron Downey
Brad Stuart-Brian Rafalski
Jonathan Ericsson-Ruslan Salei
Jakub Kindl-Logan Pyett
Darren Helm secured a 5-3 victory for team Red over team White today at Centre Ice Arena as the Detroit Red Wings wrapped up this segment of training camp. Helm scored on a Jonathan Ericsson turnover to make it 5-3. Brendan Smith, Jordan Owens, Jamie Tardif and Henrik Zetterberg also scored for the Red, while Jan Mursak, Dan Cleary and Jakub Kindl had goals for White. Chris Osgood made 14 saves, and Jimmy Howard made 10 saves in the opening half. (The game consisted of two, 25-minute periods.)
“I was pleasantly surprised by the pace and the execution,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought it was good.”
In a measure of success for the Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi line, the three shut down Zetterberg’s line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom (Filppula’s line wasn’t on the ice for Zetterberg’s goal).
Of note from Khan...
In addition to Owens, Brendan Smith Jamie Tardif, Henrik Zetterberg and Helm scored for the Red Team. Brad Stuart, Dan Cleary and Jakub Kindl scored for the White Team. “Good tempo, good execution, obviously some turnovers in the end I didn’t like (one bad one by Jonathan Ericsson led to Helm’s goal),’’ Babcock said. “Good goaltending from both Ozzie (Chris Osgood) and Howie (Jimmy Howard). Some kids I continue to like, (Brian) Lashoff and Smith on the back, I thought (Joakim) Andersson was good up front. (Cory) Emmerton’s had a solid camp.’‘
Nicklas Lidstrom had a couple excellent scoring chances after joining the rush. At 40, I don’t expect him to join the rush all the time, but that’s what he and (new partner Niklas) Kronwall are for. We encourage our D to be involved. Nick is a patient guy, he does it when it’s appropriate.’’
Enforcer Aaron Downey, in camp on a tryout, will be in the lineup for Wednesday’s preseason opener at Pittsburgh. “Downey’s camp starts now,’’ Babcock said. “He wasn’t going to be running around against our guys, but I’m sure he’ll be good in Pittsburgh.’’
Back to Wakiji:
Jakub Kindl tied the game with 4:47 to play with a shot from inside the blue line. Mursak and Maltby assisted, giving each two points for the game.
“It’s always good, helps the confidence a little bit,” Maltby said. “I’m just kind of rolling with the punches and letting things happen as they may. If you can help on the scoreboard with points whichever way, I’m not expected of it. But it is definitely nice from a personal standpoint to contribute.”
“It was fun,” Howard [who stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced] said. “It was very up-pace compared to last year. Guys had a little bit more jump out there. The first period, it was a good time out there.”
Howard wasn’t too upset that his team lost.
“No, I think I’ll be able to sleep tonight,” he said, laughing.
They’re all sleeping by now, every one except Babcock. If I’ve taken any impressions of the man from my very limited interactions with him, they are the following:
1. He’s shorter than you’d think in person (about 5’10”);
2. He’s energetic as can be because he’s probably more physically fit than half of the players he coaches;
3. He’s ridiculously detail-oriented and wants his team to be nothing less than perfect, but as he has a teaching and sports psychology background from McGill, he’s able to alter his lesson plan on the fly and accept less than perfection, though he always demands that his players give a little more and push a little harder than perhaps they’d like on their own;
4. He’s confrontational with the media because he is the coach of an NHL team, and he only wants to share what he wants the press to know that he thinks, and he somewhat rightfully views every interaction with the media as a stare-down (thus the death stare and the early, “What else?” or “See you, guys” if he doesn’t like a question);
5. He’s still somebody I’d love to sit down and talk to for five minutes to let him know where I’m coming from, but I don’t think he’s got the time or inclination to give any of his valuable time to anything other than coaching, his family and children’s charities, which is fine because he’s the coach of an NHL team and he’s a busy, uber-competitive and very serious man.
Babcock paid attention to a few other things, too, as Pleiness noted...
The Wings’ second line of Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi had a hard time clicking in training camp.
“We’ll watch here now,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve got to work it out. What normally happens you get a little frustrated with each other until you decide to talk and once you decide to talk you’re probably on the home stretch. A little more frustration might set in yet.
“It’s pretty good I think,” Franzen said. “I think we’re at a good level, but we can do better. The more we play the better we get.”
Bertuzzi and Franzen spent a good chunk of their time on the ice talking to each other to try and work out where they were supposed to be in the offensive zone to support Filppula, who was darting up and down the ice, darting back and forth irrespective of his linemates’ positions. That’s a problem, because, as Pleiness noted in an earlier conversation with Ken Holland, the Wings want Filppula to step forward without turning into a defensive liability, and that’s what he is right now:
“The plan is he’s going to be the No. 2 center,” Holland said. “We’ve got to watch. He’s so good as a defensive forward that a lot of times, in the past, we’ve just sort of worked him into that position because he’s such a premier checking forward. But where is his offense going to go?” Holland added. “For a lot of last year we had (Henrik) Zetterberg in one center spot and (Pavel) Datsyuk in another center spot, realistically, in the National Hockey League, when you’re playing on the third line and not getting much power play time it’s pretty hard to generate (offense).”
“Part of his (lack of) offensive statistics is because we’re using him in such a defensive role,” Holland said. “In a cap world you need people to step forward. With the addition of (Jiri) Hudler and (Mike) Modano and we have Todd Bertuzzi back, we get (Tomas) Holmstrom back, now he has an opportunity to play with good offensive players. We think he can take his offensive game to a different level, whether he’s playing with Franzen, Bertuzzi, Hudler or Cleary. We think he will,” Holland said. “I think he’s going to have a good year.”
The irony of watching that line work for me is that Bertuzzi and Franzen have taken turns playing as snipers or power forwards who battled their way to the net as Filppula darted in and out of traffic looking to set both players up with passes, and as we all know about Fil, that’s a problem in more ways than one. First, Filppula has yet to embrace the concept that he needs to shoot the puck on a regular basis, and as a center with two big bulldozing wingers, he’s going to have to shoot the puck at the net and let chaos unfold…
“I still need to shoot the puck more and definitely try to go to the net more,” Filppula said. “Offensively, those are the biggest things I need to improve on. I think it’s a mental thing, I need to decide to (shoot more),” Filppula added. “I need to try and make it happen on the ice.”
And, put simply, Todd Bertuzzi’s most effective when he knows he should go to the front of the net and stay there unless he’s going into the corners to shovel pucks back to his center, defenseman, or the resident sniper on the line, Franzen, and thus far, Bertuzzi’s been able to indulge in his back-passing, backhand-shooting and spin-o-rama-prone tendencies, more and more as each practice and scrimmage progressed. I’m one of those weird people who really likes the way Todd Bertuzzi 2.0 plays as a two-way forward who actually backchecks and shows up to play every night, but for both Filppula to break through offensively and Bertuzzi to cause as few expletives tossed his way by Wings fans as possible as he tries too hard to will back a deftness of puck-handling skill that he simply could never really control, both players need to simplify their game, and they need to get on the same page with each other to succeed. All Johan Franzen needs to get going is a puck on his stick and somebody to tick him off.
In the multimedia department...
Video: My Fox Detroit both streamed the game and did a recap thereof, but the video’s disappeared from their website;
Pleiness posted videos of Babcock talking about Smith…
Players taking to the ice for the scrimmage…
Brendan Smith scoring…
And Henrik Zetterberg scoring (and yes, I’m aware of the fact that the next technological purchase I must make is a “Flip Cam,” thank you):
Traverse City’s 9&10 News posted highlights from the game—and yes, Homer was forced to take another ceremonial faceoff against Mike Modano, and he lost it again;
And the Red Wings’ website posted a 9-minute clip of highlights and Mike Babcock’s presser:
Photos: The Detroit News’s David Guralnick posted a 19-image photo gallery;
Fox Sports Detroit posted several photos taken from the press box, including the volunteer group photo, and yes, the front of the rink has Dallas Drake’s Cup-lifting photo plastered on it, which is ironic given that Drake comes to the rink most days with a solid amount of scruff on his face (he must be afraid of razor blades, like me—don’t ask—and uses a beard trimmer instead, even more rarely than I do);
And Dave Reginek’s camp pictures are now up on the Red Wings’ Getty Images page.
Also of “good read” importance but not related to the game per se: RedWingsCentral’s Sarah Lindenau posted a superb article about Wings prospect Cory Emmerton, his and Logan Pyett’s assessment of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ disastrous 09-10 season, the reasoning as to why the team kept Trevor Parkes in the fold and a note about the fact that the ever-humble Brian Lashoff and gregarous Brendan Smith made favorable impressions upon Ken Holland;
As Matt Saler of On the Wings notes, Henrik Zetterberg will sign autographs at Hockeytown Authentics this Thursday at 6 PM in exchange for new smoke detectors;
And this quip from Sports Illustrated’s Al Muir bears mentioning because it’s very accurate:
Remember the name Joakim Andersson. The Red Wings’ second-round pick in 2007 is likely to start the season in Grand Rapids, but he’s made an impression at camp. “A bigger, stronger P.J. Axelsson,” one observer told me. Sounds like the sort of player Babcock would feel secure relying on…
That is exactly what Andersson looks like. He possesses solid offensive potential at the AHL level, but in terms of his NHL “upside,” think a third-line center in the Keith Primeau-after-he-left-Detroit mold. Big, strong, smart as smart can be in terms of his defensive awareness, strong and fantastic in the faceoff circle.
As for my own take on the day’s events, and camp as a whole?
In this case I’m competing with the observations made by KK members during the game’s web stream on MyFoxDetroit, and I’m probably going to disagree with some of you, if not annoy you.
Let’s start small and work out to wider and game-based perspectives:
The Wings used video to re-establish the technical aspects of their game from the outset of training camp, reinforcing situational principles and positional details via video presentations used before, during and after practices, and you can sure as hell bet that Babcock, Paul MacLean, Brad McCrimmon and video coach Keith McKittrick made the Red vs. White game no exception. The players watched video for a good ten minutes before warm-ups;
I never witnessed Chris Minard actually skating with the Wings. He put on his gear on Monday and Tuesday and took a twirl, but he was out of his gear by scrimmage time every day;
The players who didn’t participate in the game either worked out or watched the game from the northeastern end of the rink, past the “NO PRESS BEYOND THIS POINT” yellow line. Sebastien Piche, Sergei Kolosov, and I believe Jordan Pearce watched the entire game. The rest came and went and snacked on the bagels, apples and bananas that could have started a war between the press and rink organizers over the course of the main camp, but that’s another story for a different day;
As previously stated, Babcock watched the game from the rink’s lone suite and hustled down to speak to McCrimmon, MacLean, Fraser and Paek between periods;
I liked my friend Courtney’s suggestion of “Phil and Larry” as the official nicknames for Valtteri Filppula and his older brother, Ilari;
For all his speed, Mike Modano’s still wearing Chris Chelios-style CCM Tacks skates;
If there was a song I heard more than any other during the eleven days I spent at the rink during warm-ups, it was Ted Nugent’s “Spirit of the Wild/Fred Bear.” The deejay was…eclectic in his tastes;
Without Kris Draper on the ice, Darren Helm ran the pre-game shooting drill for the red team, and Kirk Maltby ran it for the white team. I’m not sure who else the Wings will have corral pucks and decide who’s going in one-on-one against the goalie or firing from afar if both Draper and Maltby aren’t playing.
During the game, the teams rotated seven defenders, and the oddest and sometimes most effective pairing was Brad Stuart alongside Jonathan Ericsson. Ruslan Salei remains as rock-steady as can be, but he’s still trying to figure Ericsson out, and Ericsson’s wandering too much.
The lines rotated as well, but the Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom line and Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi line were matched up most often.
Ah, hell, let’s go line by line and goalie by goalie:
Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Datsyuk used the blacked-out Reebok stick which he told me was specifically not from the KGB after the game for the first half, and then switched to a Reebok 11K for the second half, and Homer very honestly had a goal called back because the referees ruled that he tipped a Nicklas Lidstrom shot in from his shoulders, not the crossbar (which he did, but still, it’s a frickin’ scrimmage!), and he was given a penalty soon after, so I think he did something very bad to referees in a previous life…
Otherwise, I mean there’s not much to say about this line. Zetterberg makes demonstrative defensive plays while Pavel’s a little more subtle in his own end, but in the neutral and offensive zone, they’re nothing less than magic together, and their stick and lower body strength can’t be underlined enough when they’re battling for pucks. Neither is a large man, but they’re incredibly strong. Holmstrom’s knees are healthy and he’s skating around like a player three years younger, and he plain old looks happier this season. For a player who’s as moody as Homer, that’s important.
Mattias Ritola-Justin Abdelkader-Drew Miller
Abdelkader dazzled, generating scoring chances, checking the snot out of people and playing really, really well in his own end, especially against the Modano line. He’s a little bulkier this season and it’s showing in his endurance. That boxing training had much more to do with building up endurance than it did with fighting, which he isn’t going to do very regularly. The Wings want him to play like Kirk Maltby did in terms of ticking people off and instigating stuff, and that’s what he’s going to do.
I thought that Miller was better than Ritola in this game but the whole point as far as the Wings are concerned was underlined in the box score—Ritola put up a point and Miller looked like a steady, hard-working checking forward. As much as the Wings like Miller’s hard-working style and consistent effort, the management believes that Ritola, for all his floating and perimeter play, has a scorer’s touch and could put up some decent numbers down the line, and when you have that kind of offensive potential, the Wings tend to lean toward potential over already receiving the best they know they’re gonna get from somebody. I think the battle for the final roster spot will come down to the two, and won’t be decided until the last exhibition game, but I have to reluctantly give it to Ritola at this point.
Jordan Owens-Darren Helm-Patrick Eaves
I already like Owens because he’s a speedy grinder who works his tail off, and he fit in perfectly with Helm and Eaves, who have remarkable chemistry. Helm wins faceoffs like nobody’s business, charges up the ice knocking the fillings out of his opponents and is supremely defensively responsible, and Eaves not only checks hard but is skating like the wind this season and generates offense on the forecheck very, very regularly. These two are going to be fun to watch this year, most likely with Abdelkader stirring the pot.
Tomas Tatar-Joakim Andersson-Kirk Maltby
Tatar came on late in camp and had a very good game, swiping the puck cycling it down low before firing it out to Andersson, Maltby, or very regularly, the 13th forward, one…
Whose name should be underlined as a, “The Wings re-signed the Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain for a reason” dark horse candidate to earn a game or two because he’s got some Maltby in him as well. Maltby himself, like Holmstrom, looks three years younger because he’s healthy, and I think he’s going to push Miller and Ritola, if not be a fantastic mentor for the Griffins’ kids…
And Andersson’s just a frickin’ huge work in progress. He’s going to take all year long to get used to the grind of the AHL schedule, and will vacillate up and down in terms of his play like Tatar did, and while Tatar needs to establish himself as a point-per-game player in the AHL before the Wings think about calling him up (a Ken Holland comment I happened to overhear), Andersson’s potential as a defensive forward who wins draws, supports more offensively-inclined wingers and is just plain old HUGE really intrigues me.
Nicklas Lidstrom-Niklas Kronwall
Nick isn’t just pinching more with Kronwall alongside him—they switch sides very regularly, with Kronwall playing the left and Lidstrom playing the right as necessary. Still working out kinks, yes, but Lidstrom is his fantastic and nearly perfect human self, and Kronwall didn’t really get into the swing of things in terms of beating the brains out of his opponents as he can’t do so when he’s playing against teammates, but there is, for lack of a better description, a better pacing between his staccato hitting style and the flow his skating brings to his puck-moving game at both ends of the ice. That being said, Kronwall had an ice pack on his left knee after every practice and scrimmage, so “healed from surgery” in 2010 still means, “Give him another month to be truly pain free, and THEN let’s see if he’s back to 50-point form.”
And if you’re keeping score at home, not only is Nick wearing the CCM Vector helmet now, he’s also ditched the classic, $20 RBE visor that Rafalski and Maltby wear for an Oakley. Different helmet, different visor. It happens very regularly, but not when you’re Nick Lidstrom. Mike Modano’s the only one rocking the old-school CCM skates and helmet now.
Doug Janik-Brendan Smith
This should be a pairing in Grand Rapids, because Janik’s rock-steady defensive defenseman’s play and the confidence he’s brought as someone who knows he’s first on the runway in terms of being called up give Smith the ability to pinch, join the rush, take risks and learn, again, that you’re gonna get hit if you wait that extra half second to make a pass at the AHL level. Smith’s got a ways to go but he also came on late in camp, like Tatar, and this pair held its own against the Filppula and Modano lines.
Brian Lashoff-Derek Meech
Meech at least engaged—he knows he’s going to be competing for a job somewhere—while Lashoff continues to amaze me because he’s a big, powerful defenseman in the Brad Stuart mold who’s all of 21 and has the maturity of someone my age (32). He’s humble, hard-working and again superbly steady. He hits people, he’s not afraid when he’s the last man back and Mike Modano’s bearing down on him and he has to move the puck, and he’s not just a stay-at-home player because he has a good shot and his passing is simple, steady, and more than effective—his outlet passes can surprise you at times in the best possible sense of the term. He’s got good vision. I can’t wait to see what he looks like three to five years from now, when he’s wearing the “C” in Grand Rapids and has earned a call-up or three. He might get that call-up sooner than later.
At the AHL level, Amadio can generate offense and his longer-than-Patrick Eaves’-hair will flap in the breeze as he lays opponents out and drops the gloves. He’s a Griffins-only signing, however, so you won’t see him in Detroit.
When Chris Osgood’s on his game, he’s not exactly an aesthetically pleasing goaltender, looking somewhere between a toad and a crab in terms of his stance and the way he scrambles to stop pucks when they’re loose in his crease. He plays goal like his helmet-and-cage mask looks—he’s effective but it ain’t pretty sometimes. And in terms of both his mannerisms, level of confidence and the way that Ozzie staggers, stumbles and regains his balance to will pucks away from the crease, he’s back to his old form. He’s not trying too hard to get on top of his crease, nor is he backing in too deeply, and the puck, as Mike Babcock would say, is sticking to him.
I get that people watch McCollum give up softies during scrimmages or will see Thomas give up a softy during an exhibition game and wonder how a 6’2, 210-lb goalie can get beaten so easily, but as I’ve stated from the start, he’s still trying to internalize all the lessons that Jim Bedard has imparted to him, and until a goaltender takes all the conscious knowledge of where he’s supposed to be and how he’s supposed to react when a shot is taken from a specific location and opponents present certain very specific opportunities if you don’t control your rebounds, and makes that all at least subconscious, if not unconscious, you’re going to be caught thinking as much as caught leaning. He’s at least more upright in his stance, his hands are out in front of him and he played up to the level of his competition. McCollum’s like Howard was three-to-five years ago—three-to-five years out—but he’s a brilliant young man with the perfectly easygoing disposition of an NHL goaltender and the level-headed young man’s going to figure himself out sooner or later.
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi
If anything, Johan Franzen was sometimes thoroughly bored at camp with nobody to annoy him and no clearance to literally knock people over and skate to the net like a bully on a playground, whacking kids because he’s just bigger and stronger than they are. He obviously needs to stay healthy and obviously needs to bring a little more consistency to the table in terms of his motivation, but he’s going to be fine once the season begins. He’s skating like a man with two healthy knees whose heavy shot needs something to break or someone to push back into the net. The mule couldn’t kick with his horseshoes on, and he will during the exhibition season.
As for Filppula and Bertuzzi, they really do make strange linemates in terms of their need to rely on each other to simplify their games and succeed, but Fil needs to shoot more, tell his linemates where he expects them to be so that they stop talking to each other and start going to the net, literally in Bertuzzi’s case, and Bert needs to find someone to tick him off, too. Hopefully Sidney Crosby will do the trick. He makes me mad whenever I see that twerp, and I’m a nice guy.
Jiri Hudler-Mike Modano-Dan Cleary
The best thing Mike Modano did in the Red vs. White game was reaffirm that he is still a Selke-worthy defensive forward who knows how to take care of his own zone and can backcheck like the Red Wings need a third-line center to backcheck if he’s not clicking with two streaky, streaky players in Hudler and Cleary. Modano was awesome backchecking.
Hudler’s high, hard shot and nose for the net remain intact, but even he admitted that he’s still trying to readjust to the geometry of the North American game, despite his status as a seasoned NHL’er, and it shows. Cleary is, to some extent, pulling a Bertuzzi—he needs to go to the front of the damn net and generate turnovers along the boards and then get out of the way while Modano and Hudler do their thing and get in the way of the opposing goaltender. They’ve got a week and a half to figure each other out, and I think they will.
Hudler will also be better once he’s got a pair of gloves that aren’t Zetterberg’s, and Cleary needs to stop trying to use Hudler’s Bauer TotalOne stick, which he did during the scrimmage. Go back to the Easton S19, Dan.
Francis Pare-Cory Emmerton-Jan Mursak
Three players, one line, same goal—establish themselves as scorers and top-six forwards at the AHL level, each in their own respective ways. Pare’s a slightly speedier right-handed version of Hudler; Emmerton’s a strong center with underrated defensive awareness who’s now physically strong enough to win one-on-one battles for the puck; Mursak’s a sniper and a strong skater who needs to keep going north-south and reminding people why that very bow-legged skating stride evokes ever-so-subtle visions of some left-handed guy who wears #61. Mursak is no Rick Nash, but to realize his 20-to-25 goal potential he needs to bulldoze his way to the net like Nash does. Having Emmerton set him up wouldn’t hurt.
Ilari Filppula-Jamie Johnson-Aaron Downey
“Larry” faded over the course of camp but is everything his brother isn’t—simple, straightforward, skates in straight lines, shoots the puck, no-frills, a bit chunkier and stronger on his feet, but not nearly as fast or creative; Johnson looks very good in terms of bringing the Griffins offense and playing as a mentor to the team’s younger forwards; Downey needs someone to fight and needs to remember that while he is in fact a viable grinder now, he still possesses a fighter’s hands when it comes to handling the puck and trying to make plays. Muck, grind, get the puck out of trouble and put it into the hands of somebody who knows what to do with it, that’s what Downey has to do. His return to physical form has to, ironically, like Filppula and Bertuzzi, be balanced by the fact that he needs to mentally buy into the concept that he needs to keep his game simple and not try to do too much by himself.
The Griffins’ third or fourth-line center with flashes of Cleary flair will do just fine in his first pro season. He’s a consummate grinder and hard worker and his skating’s very, very, very good.
Brad Stuart-Brian Rafalski
Brad Stuart can’t go easy on anybody, even in scrimmages. I love watching him smear his opponents into the boards by twisting his hips when he’s hitting them, and he did that to his teammates at 80% of his usual tenacity and nastiness on Tuesday. He was his strong, steady self all camp long, and yes, he’s as quiet as he sounds like off the ice.
Rafalski’s just healthy—nobody mentions the fact that he played through back issues over the past two seasons—a little heavier and a lot more comfortable in his skin. Regardless of whether he’s playing with Stuart or Lidstrom, the Wings need Rafalski to consistently post about 50 points while playing that soccer-style defensive game, where instead of poke-checking his opponents and using his wingspan like Lidstrom does to ward off foes, he literally closes on them, checks them and jabs the puck out of the scrum with his stick or kicks it out. He makes “tackles” when he’s separating opponents from the puck in the soccer sense of the world, and he’s back at his “tackling” best.
Jonathan Ericsson-Ruslan Salei
The only bad thing I can say about Ericsson is a big, bad thing, just like him—he was still making supremely Sophomore Slump daffy mistakes at times. I think we sometimes forget that he’s still a 26-year-old in progress who’s a good two years out from his prime, and will have hiccups from time to time as he really was and is a late-bloomer. He’s hitting people with authority again, however, he’s skating well, he can pinch more with Salei next to him and he’s shooting the puck like he used to.
Salei is so no-frills it’s not funny. He might out-Brad Stuart Brad Stuart in that regard. He’s everything Andreas Lilja was on a good day, only a few inches shorter, and he remains a Stealth Bomber who seems to lurk and lurk and lurk and then suddenly be in the perfect spot to pick off a pass, block a shot or hammer an opponent. The fact that he’s so enthusiastic and plain old looks at everybody cross-eyed, like they’ve kicked his puppy or something, is good. I want to see him unleashed during the exhibition season, too.
Jakub Kindl-Logan Pyett
While Pyett and Ehrhardt hope to find themselves in the Griffins’ top four, even if Derek Meech and Doug Janik are down there, instead of playing in Toledo, as both establish themselves as very physically strong two-way defensemen who are relatively mobile and hard to play against (that’s not a change of game for Ehrhardt, but Pyett’s essentially given himself an “extreme makeover” as he used to be Derek Meech II, and is now much grittier), Kindl…
Kindl’s NHL ready most of the time. That means that the Wings need to break the big, rangy defenseman in slowly as he continues to figure out just where he’s supposed to be skating and where he’s going to rip that hard, low shot at the net or find forwards on the fly in the neutral zone to spring with his seeing-eye outlet passes. If he can get a good exhibition season in and come into the lineup in November, after some confidence-building practices, a la Jimmy Howard, he’s got all the potential in the world—in two to three years—to be a superb offensive defenseman who does everything but hit people (he’s just not physical, despite his 6’3” frame), but he needs to be handled with care and be careful to not lose confidence in himself if he make mistakes. He’s on the cusp, still.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard have one thing in common: they all play exactly like their off-ice personalities. Howard is supremely easygoing and really does have that, “Aw, shucks” affect, and on the ice, when he’s just playing goal, he’s everything that Osgood isn’t in terms of smoothness and elegantly effective technique. While Osgood flails onto his butt to seal the left post as a player skates around him, Howard simply lowers and extends his left leg and toe and the pad kicks out into the right place. If he, like McCollum, keeps standing upright and keeps working with Bedard, there’s no reason to think that Howard will ever suffer from more than three to five “sophomore slump” games over the course of the entire regular season because Howard is near-technically perfect and really does look more confident and relaxed, if that’s possible, coming into this season. He’s our #1.
I’m glad that Joey MacDonald’s our #3 and I’m glad that he’s going to be in Grand Rapids to mentor McCollum. I’m also glad that he’s our #3 and is going to be in Grand Rapids because he remains everything that Howard used to be—despite his technical aptitude and size, the man’s got holes, and once you back him into the net or pull him off his angle, pop, there you go, open net. Deke him, he bites, bang, open net. MacDonald’s a “journeyman” and he’s back in an organization that treated him very well at the NHL and AHL levels, and I believe it will rejuvenate him, but he just doesn’t have any NHL potential anymore as anything other than a spare part, and that’s a hard thing to say.
I’ve learned to say my share of “hard things” over the past week and a half. I don’t have any grand conclusion other than to say that I’ve grown as a person, writer, and someone who’s learning to be very comfortable sticking my foot over the “NO PRESS BEYOND THIS POINT” line to see whether I spontaneously combust when I mention to a player, in passing, that I happen to be a Red Wings fan and they say that they think that’s cool, and, as a few younger players have told me, would rather talk to someone who they know is rooting for them rather than going after “the story”...
And I did it because you sent me here. I left MLive after four-and-a-half great years because I knew that Paul could offer me an unparalleled number of eyeballs coming my way—as well as tons of advice—and I knew I couldn’t do anything less than say yes when a community of people who both represent, “The 19,” the Tweeps and the reluctant and/or quiet followers who I’d prefer to call the “19-plus” and invite to join KK and comment here because I want others to hear from you here…You sent me to the prospect tournament and training camp out of your own pocket. I’m someone who’s trying to get into the hockey-writing business through the window of an English degree, a failed teaching career and deciding to pursue a dream, and that doesn’t pay the way to go to training camp, but you did, and you’ve changed my life for the better because of your generosity and kindness.
I don’t know where I go from here. After my travel day tomorrow and some rest, and the Malik Report’s launch in a little while (we still need to vote on the whole banner thing) and I’ll get back to reading about Wings, the Griffins, hopefully the Whalers as I may attend a few games from the press box and who knows, and the NHLPA from my near-lone pro-PA perspective, I’ll get back to translating Swedish in the middle of the night and being more privately neurotic and insecure and just get my ass to work.
Whether that involves going down to a Red Wings practice or a game on occasion, I have no control over that. If the Wings invite me down someday, that would be fantastic, and if not, that’s fine. I just write about a team that I really do love and I really do root passionately for and I do it in my biased and verbose way while starting to become a little more professional about it.
I guess the best way to end this, other than to note that, save the muffled Babcock presser (I was about eight feet away from him), the interviews with Ruslan Salei, Jordan Owens, my stumble-through with Pavel Datsyuk, who eventually figured out that I was kind of funny as I found my voice—talk about a “banner” moment representing the whole experience in a, “No, stick is not from the KGB” nutshell (and he uses hockey tape gooped onto his stick, not pine tar, for grip), Jiri Hudler, kindred spirit Tomas Holmstrom and a massive, 12-minute-long interview with Jim Nill, two readers’ slates of questions answered therein, are all my own.
The MSM does its job, and they do it well. They get the big story and the compelling quotes and pump their articles out in a remarkably short amount of time, they’re hard-working professionals and they provide us with an objective perspective and move onto the next thing. And, hopefully, bloggers can compliment them, moving a little slower and paying attention to little details that go unnoticed while injecting passion into their storytelling.
The Red Wings obviously deserve a shout-out, too, because they invited me to come to a prospect tournament and training camp that is ran, from stem to stern, like no other organization in the NHL could run it, first-class all the way and in every aspect, in no small part thanks to the volunteers at Centre Ice Arena, who put in NHL-long hours for two weeks to make everyone from Mike Ilitch to the guy with the funny goatee feel like they’re important.
Here’s what I’ll leave you with: yes, I’m tired, yes, I’m burnt out, and yes, I need to go home and sleep in my own bed and recharge a bit, but I’m leaving Traverse City in a few hours no less in love with the game of hockey or my Red Wings, who I fully understand are millionaires who are paid to play a kid’s game that matters very little in the grand scheme of things, than I was when I came here. The Red Wings’ coaches and players understand that they’re in a privileged situation and that they represent Citizens of Hockeytown from all over the world, and they work their butts off to justify their paychecks and the money we invest in following them, but in buying into their 24/7/365 jobs, they do what they do because they love it.
It shows. They love to play hockey. They feel privileged to work tremendously hard to attempt near-perfection in playing a kid’s game. And to see that in person and come away with it feeling just as much kid-like excitement, enthusiasm, and fascination with every little detail of the game and every little second of being a Red Wings fan is pretty [expletive]ing awesome. I hope that came across and I really hope that I gave you your money’s worth. Thank you for letting me share this journey with you. This is just the first chapter, I think…No, after this past week and a half, I know.
Mike Babcock’s presser, muffled:
Twelve Minutes of Jim Nill—I’ll try to transcribe this in a few days:
I would highly, highly, highly recommend that you read Ansar Khan’s article about Mattias Ritola as Grand Rapids Griffins coach Curt Fraser, Red Wings GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill weigh in on Ritola’s future with the team;
The Traverse City Record-Eagle’s James Cook discusses Aaron Downey’s attempt to make the Wings or Griffins’ rosters and the final day of practice, and he adds quite the tidbit:
Mike and Marian Ilitch visited Red Wings camp on Sunday, the first time the team’s owners have ever come to camp.
The Penguins’ website has posted both teams’ lineups for tonight’s game;
And where did all the money Ilitch Charities raised during their golf classic go? The Free Press’s Tom Walsh has that answer:
So it was Tuesday night at Comerica Park before the baseball game, when Ilitch Charities presented four $35,000 checks to Forgotten Harvest, Goodwill Industries of Detroit, S.A.Y. Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts from money raised at its third annual One Team, One Community Gala and Celebrity Golf Classic.
“You wouldn’t expect it in this economy, but this was our best year yet,” Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, told me Tuesday.
The recent golf outing and gala—both sold out—raised more than $230,000, Ilitch said. That’s up from $208,000 last year and $198,000 the year before. In addition to the four main recipients, other charities will receive the remainder of this year’s net proceeds from the two events.
No, I’m not going to lose my healthy skepticism of all things hockey-related and get mushy-gushy-lovey-dovey with everything Ilitch and Red
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Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977. No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y. Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation. There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature. Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org