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Red Wings overnight report: on getting down to training camp basics and the Griffins’ Great Skate

In the words of my father, I feel like an "old fart" for saying this, but a month short of my 35th birthday, I'll let those of you who are too young to remember the 1994-95 season know the best and worst parts of a truncated 48-game schedule:

The best part is that it is a seemingly endless 3-month run of games, games, more games, injuries galore thanks to the condensed schedule and a rush of personnel moves between the ratification of the CBA and the trade deadline, all with a heavy dose of a full playoff run from May to the end of June heaped on top.

The worst part is that there's no recovery time from the ups, downs, injuries, personnel moves or anything else, so neither player nor fan can keep up with all that's going on, nor can they really emotionally digest it. It's great short attention span theatre, but it's also surprisingly emotionally draining, because it's like three months spent in the hockey fan mosh pit.

On Friday (and before we begin, don't forget about the Grand Rapids Griffins' "Great Skate" event tonight!) we learned that:

  • The Wings will hold training camp at Compuware Arena in Plymouth from today (players report for physicals but don't skate) until Tuesday, and will hold two more days of camp at Joe Louis Arena--thanks to the fact that the Auto Show will begin its proceedings with press unveilings at the Joe today, making the Wings' home rink inaccessible for the present moment;
  • The Sunday-through-Tuesday sessions will be open to the public, with details regarding the structure of camp coming today;
  • The NHL schedule will be released today, though DetroitHockey.net's Clark Rasmussen snagged it early. The Wings will begin play against the St. Louis Blues, in St. Louis, on Saturday the 19th, and they will hold their home opener on Monday the 21st. The Wings will conclude their 48-game mad scramble in Dallas, on April 27th;
  • If you didn't already know, Tomas Holmstrom will hold a retirement presser this week (probably on Wednesday or Thursday);
  • The Wings will not officially unveil their captain (Henrik Zetterberg) until just prior to the start of the regular season (Friday, Henrik Zetterberg), making for an awkward week for people who will have to pretend to lie to the press in alternate captains Pavel Datsyuk (coming back to the U.S. after Sunday's KHL All-Star Game, will be back Monday and probably skate Tuesday, per, uh, everybody) and Niklas Kronwall, possible alternate captain Valtteri Filppula, and captain Henrik Zetterberg;
  • Again, the Wings will not retire Nicklas Lidstrom's #5 this year as there's not enough time to properly prepare for the event--for the team, or for Lidstrom and his family;
  •  We are all allowed to be terrified of what the Lidstrom-less team will look like, at least until an inevitable move prior to or on the trade deadline, which is slated to hit on April 3rd;
  • Mike and Marian Ilitch are very sorry about the whole lockout thing (no word from Jimmy D yet);
  • And Darren Helm's already hurt...

At least I'm pretty sure that's what Friday's practice updates said, because I haven't been able to digest everything yet, either.

Let's pause for a brief message from WXYZ's Tom Leyden:

When the truncated NHL season officially starts, the Red Wings expect to play the Blues in St. Louis on January 19. It's believed the Wings will open at home on Tuesday, January 22 against Dallas.

Today, informal workouts continued at the Troy Sports Center.

Patrick Eaves led the group, including Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Valterri Filppula and many more, through a series of drills in two separate sessions that were separated by a brief break for the Zamboni to clean the ice.

Kronwall spoke with me after practice about the need for the defenseman to step up in the absence of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart.

 


The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan posited two throughts regarding the public porition of training camp and the, "Woo, NHL hockey has returned!" atmosphere in Metro Detroit these days (again, as Michigan Hockey's Michael Caples pointed out, it's just joining a crowded hockey marketplace here in "the Mitten"):


I'm not so sure about the latter point, but excitement is palpable among both fans and players, as Kulfan suggests in article form:

"Butterflies are going, the adrenaline is pumping, but it's a good feeling," forward Johan Franzen said after an informal workout at Troy Sports Center on Friday. "I've been missing that."

The Red Wings will have one training camp session each day through Wednesday at Compuware Arena — two Sunday — before moving to Joe Louis Arena for open practices next Thursday and Friday.

Hey, cool, open practices at the Joe!

Evening intrasquad scrimmages are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday. The remainder of the week likely will be late morning or early afternoon workouts. All practices will be open to the public free of charge.

While only six days of camp — with no exhibitions — is a far cry from the usual eight games and nearly three weeks of training, the players are excited about the prospect of getting ready for a season they weren't sure was even going to take place.

"It was definitely in the back of your head, the longer it was going on," Franzen said. "I was a little worried."

But there were no worries Friday.

"Everyone is looking forward to it," goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "It's been a long time. Everyone is excited to be out here and joking around and definitely it's fun to get things going again.

The Wings are running a leaner training camp ship with their prospects all skating for their respective rights-holders in the AHL, ECHL, major junior hockey, for college hockey teams and European pro leagues, and the Wings are also going to keep Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in Grand Rapids for now (again, fear not, the whole injury thing means that the Wings could probably hire someone to drive players to and from Grand Rapids on a daily basis, at least as the groins warm up)...

But the Free Press's Helene St. James profiled Jonas Gustavsson today, and she did so for a very, very good reason: thanks to a schedule that's guaranteed to consist of upwards of 20 back-to-back games, Mike Babcock won't be able to ride Howard as he has over the past two seasons.

Gustavsson will definitely play at at least a third of the schedule, and he'll receive every opportunity to push Howard, and, as St. James suggests, Gustavsson's size and relative youth--by Red Wings standards, anyway--place someone who's already acclimated to the neighborhood and his Detroit area-practicing teammates in a position to succeed.

Howard is excited to have Gustavsson on board, saying, "I think we're going to push each other to get better. He works hard every single time he's out here, so that's how he pushes me."

Gustavsson, nicknamed Monster for his 6-foot-3 frame, hit unrestricted free agency this past summer, and was immediately snatched up by the Wings for two years and what could turn out to be a bargain $1.5 million a season. He established quite a reputation in Toronto, first by saying he was going to steal as many games as possible from then-starter Vesa Toskala in '09-10, then by being diagnosed with a heart condition on Day 1 of camp. Surgery took care of that, but then came a heart murmur and more procedures.

He still got named to the 2010 Swedish Olympic team, which thrilled him, in part because it meant getting to share the ice with former Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom. It also helped facilitate friendships with so many of his new teammates, like Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg.

"He's a really good guy," Kronwall said. "Fun to be around. And he brings very solid, steady goaltending. Another great addition to our club."

Gustavsson left Toronto with a 2.98 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 107 games. Now he's hoping he can join the legions of reclamation-project players who have come to Detroit and blossomed.

"They know how to develop players here," Gustavsson said. "It's a tough competition to get playing time, but that's something I like, too, that's something that pushes me. Hopefully I can push Howie, too, and help the team win games -- no matter if I play games or I'm supporting the guys, I'm just going to take my role and go with that."

The theory here is simple: Gustavsson is a very "modern" goalie, a big puck-blocker who wears stiff pads and likes to use his size to his advantage, but Francois Allaire asked "the Monster" to stay back deep in his net and play near the goal line, and between staying even deeper in his net than he was accustomed to standing in Europe, Gustavsson played for, well, Toronto, so bringing him to a slightly more stable environment and allowing him to work with two goalies who believe on "standing outside the paint" whenever possible in goaltending coach Jim Bedard and consultant Chris Osgood will allow Gustavsson to literally as will as figuratively "grow" his game.

Gustavsson might play as soon as Jan. 21, when the as-yet-unofficial schedule has the Wings at Columbus the night before the home opener against the Dallas Stars. The schedule, expected to be released today, is going to be a grind, and the risk of falling behind likely will be detrimental to making the playoffs. The Wings couldn't have picked up an under-30 goalie with good experience at a better time.

"I think it's definitely beneficial if you can have both goalies going, because points are going to be at a premium out there this year," Howard said. "You're going to need them. Every single game is going to be like playoffs. You can't afford to lose a couple in a row."

St. James also succinctly frames the Wings' schedule in a manner that we can all easily remember: 48 games in 99 days!

As for training camp in the larger sense thereof, I posted two interviews Wings GM Ken Holland gave to WDFN and WBBL, respectively, in the Friday post, and Holland talked about the venue, format and goals of said camp while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...

“We wanted a place with big locker rooms, wanted a gym in the building or nearby,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We plan to open it to the public. Compuware made the most sense.”

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the City Sports Arena, but it's so cramped and crammed into its location next to Mount Elliott Cemetery in Detroit that you have to be buzzed into a fenced-in lot, yielding no space for fans, and when the Wings' players skate there, they tend to actually get bused into the rink already dressed, so they can ditch their laundry at the Joe, thus no room for players and very little space to do interviews.

I know that when the prospects utilized City Sports Arena thanks to a Downtown Detroit power outage, they dressed at Comerica Park because there wasn't space for the 40 players, but having been to the rink, I get the feeling that the locker rooms are packed with 20. It's a nice rink and has great ice, but it's just incredibly small, so it would be unfriendly confines for everyone involved.

Detroit will fly out after Friday’s practice for the season opener in St. Louis.

The Wings plan on having 24-27 guys at training camp, depending on health.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Holland said. “We had some players that played in the AHL or Europe. My expectation is that games might be a little rusty early, but they’re going to be great in intensity. I don’t think seeds matter that much. You just want to get in.”

Holland said the team will practice hard all week, but missing out on preseason games could hurt.

“We need scrimmages and preseason games for timing and for coaches to find out their line combinations and defense pairings,” Holland said. “Games will be intensity, playoff-style games.”

Holland told Pleiness that Datsyuk will probably join the team on Tuesday, and that Damien Brunner is highly likely to make his debut on Sunday after passing his physical today, but Helm won't be reevaluated until Monday...

And I'll leave the NHL portion of this tale to Carlo Colaiacovo, who began his interview on an amusing note:

"I want to make one thing clear, obviously the big hole is Nick Lidstrom not being here and I need to let everyone know I’m not coming in here to be Nick Lidstrom, no one can come in here and replace Nick Lidstrom,” Colaiacovo said after skating Friday morning for the first time with teammates at Troy Sports Center. “He was one of the best players to ever play this game.

“If there’s one thing I can bring to this team is a complement of what they already have,” Colaiacovo continued. “A guy that can move the puck, play the power play, play in all types of situations.”

Colaiacovo also talked about his health and his familiarity with Ian White, and I do think that it's important to point out that, as Pleiness notes, we're not just talking about the Red Wings losing Lidstrom here: Kyle Quincey is under some intense pressure to essentially replace Brad Stuart, and those skates won't be easily filled, either.

 


In terms of the AHL portion of this entry, the Grand Rapids Griffins had a rough go on Friday night, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Rockford IceHogs in Rockford. GriffinsHockey.com's Andrea Nelson reports that the Griffins kept things close for the first two periods, but fell behind in the third...

Gustav Nyquist put the Griffins on the scoreboard early, scoring just 27 seconds into the game. A shot from the left wing by Tomas Tatar was stopped by goaltender Carter Hutton, but the rebound went to Nyquist on the right wing circle. The Halmsted, Sweden native quickly put a low shot into the back of the net, extending his point streak to eight games.

The IceHogs (18-17-1-1) tied the game at one on a power play goal at 18:02 of the first period. Petr Mrazek stopped multiple shots in front of the net under Rockford’s pressure, but Jimmy Hayes cleaned up a rebound and popped it into a half empty net to score the game-tying goal.

After a scoreless second period, Jeremy Morin gave the IceHogs their first lead of the night at 1:48 of the third period. Morin’s shot from behind the goal line deflected off Mrazek’s pads and took a Rockford bounce into the back of the net.

But Tatar came back less than four minutes later to score the game-tying goal for the Griffins. On a breakaway, Tatar streaked down the middle in front of Hutton and tucked his shot inside the left side of the goal.

Rockford reclaimed the lead as Ben Smith sent a centering pass from the right wing circle to Brandon Saad coming down the middle. Saad scooped his shot past Mrazek, recording his third point of the evening.

Philippe Paradis scored his first goal of the season at 14:41 of the third period to give the IceHogs a 4-2 advantage. Mrazek stopped the right wing’s first shot but Paradis’ rebound trickled between the goaltender’s pads.

The IceHogs scored their second power play of the night at 16:58 of the final period, taking a commanding three-goal lead over the Griffins. Hayes tucked a rebound inside the right side of the goal, scoring his second goal of the game.

Mrazek finished with 28 saves while Hutton earned the victory behind 20 saves.

And the Grand Rapids Press/MLive's Nate Reens fills in the contextual blanks by explaining that the game was, let's say "spirited":

The IceDogs, who dropped a home decision to the Griffins 6-3 on Wednesday, made sure Grand Rapids didn't sweep the two-game series by beating Mrazek for four third period goals, including three straight in a five-minute span that turned a 2-2 game into a rout.

Mrazek stopped only 28 of 33 shots on the night, turning in his worst performance since Nov. 16 when he gave up five goals to Lake Erie on 34 shots. The Griffins, however, won that contest, scoring in overtime to win 6-5.

That wasn't the case Friday in a chippy game that saw the teams combine for 63 penalty minutes, 35 of which came in the first period. The Griffins Gustav Nyquist scored 27 seconds into the game, but the period quickly devolved into a whistle-fest as rough play dominated.

Griffins left wing Trevor Parkes was called for a boarding penalty at 4:07 and served his two minutes in the box. Three minutes after emerging, at the 9:02 mark, Parkes was hit with a 5-minute major and a game misconduct on another boarding call. Grand Rapids' Triston Grant and Rockford's Wade Brookbank were hit with 5-minutes for fighting at 15:42, and Tomas Tatar went off for roughing. Rockford converted the power play to tie the game.

The teams went scoreless in the second, and Tatar hit for his 15th goal of the year in the third to bring the Griffins back from a 2-1 deficit following Jeremy Morin's goal for the IceDogs.

That's when the night went south for Mrazek as Rockford scored the final three goals of the night.

Grand Rapids, which leads the Midwest Division by 7 points with a 21-11-1-2 record returns home to play Peoria at 7 p.m. Saturday night. The Griffins finished a four-game road trip with a 2-2 record.

The Griffins' website posted a Flickr photo gallery from the game, as did the Icehogs' website, and you may read their website's recap or the Rockford Register-Star's Reed Schreck's recap if you wish, but Grand Rapids' Fox 17's Courtney Perna reminds us why the Griffins have more motivation to win tonight's game:

 


Winterfest 2013 starts Saturday, Jan. 12, at noon near Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. The 34 hour event benefits the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation – an organization providing free ice time, equipment and ice hockey coaching for underprivileged kids.

Although organizers and Griffins players are excited, one question remains: will is it be cold enough outside to keep the ice rink frozen?

“Fifty degrees is the magic number,” said Randy Cleves of the Griffins Youth Foundation. “There’s three  inches of ice there, so there’s really no danger of it melting away.”

As most can imagine, ice is big part of the event; not only will it host demonstrations like skating, curling, even broomball, the biggest fundraiser of the weekend is the 24 hour Great Skate Marathon that starts at 10 p.m. on Saturday featuring Grand Rapid’s favorite Griffins players and coaches.

The Great Skate is free, but a donation pledge can be made at by clicking here.

Cleves said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the skating activies, thanks to an under-rink refrigeration system that keeps the ice at about three degrees – good news for the Youth Foundation fundraiser.

“(Griffins Youth Foundation) actually pre- dates the Griffins (hockey team),” Cleves said.  “It started operations before the Griffins even dropped the puck.”
 

That "click here" link sends you to the Griffins' Great Skate webpage, which includes an hour-by-hour listing of the Griffins players and coaches' skating times, and you can head directly to the Griffins Youth Foundation's website if you wish.

 

In other Red Wings-related news...

  • In the ECHL, the Toledo Walleye dropped a 3-2 decision to the Florida Everblades on Friday, despite out-shooting Flordia 40-27 (it's okay, they played the game in Estero, Florida, which is lovely at this time of year--trust me, I've visited the Fort Myers and Naples area as a youngster, in January [oh, my classmates were jealous in second grade] and it's really and comfy in January). The Walleye's website provides a recap, and if you haven't already heard, the Walleye signed free agent forward Trevor Nill to a contract earlier this week.

 

  • The Red Wings' Alumni Association is playing in Grand Ledge, MI tonight at 7 PM;

 

  • And this is the part of the overnight report I knew I'd be frustrated to miss doing. The Red Wings' prospects were hard at work on Friday night, and...

In the NCAA, Ben Marshall scored a last-minute goal to give Minnesota a 4-3 victory over the University of Alaska Anchorage;

In the WHL, Richard Nedomlel went scoreless and finished at -1 in the Swift Current Broncos' 3-1 victory over Prince Albert;

In the OHL, Jake Paterson stopped 30 shots as his Saginaw Spirit defeated the Erie Otters 4-3;

Andreas Athanasiou went scoreless as his Barrie Colts lost a 3-2 decision to Guelph;

Alan Quine was traded from the Kingston Frontenacs to the Belleville Bulls at the OHL's trade deadline, and he had a spectacular debut for Belleville, registering a goal and four assists in Belleville's 8-2 victory over Kingston;

In the OHL, Martin Frk had an assist as his Halifax Mooseheads beat Xavier Ouellet--who also had an assist for the team he captains--and Ouellet's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 4-2;

In other junior hockey news, the Sault Star's Bill Montague suggests that the OHL's Soo Greyhounds' decision to hang onto Ryan Sproul will help the team continue to rebound under new coach Sheldon Keefe's tutelage;

I wont' be able to cover the prospects nearly as closely as I'd like with the NHL getting underway, and as someone who did not plan on following up a massive sinus infection with a massive depressive episode, I can only look back at this season with some regret. I'm sorry about my lack of coverage...More on that in a moment...

 

  • Because, in Europe, and in prospect news of a sort, I am not surprised that Sergei Fedorov may make a swan song salute playing for CSKA Moscow as Pavel Datsyuk will leave the team on Sunday and Ilya Bryzgalov has already left town;
  • And I will offer two thoughts on Aftonbladet's Tomas Ros's news that Nicklas Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg and Mats Sundin will all serve as ambassadors for the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation at the World Championships, which will take place in Stockholm and Hesinki (with the medal rounds in Stockholm this time) in April:

1. I'm guessing that the IIHF isn't thrilled that the late-ending NHL season will make it as difficult for World Championship teams to bring in NHL'ers as their absences will make the remainder of the regular season upon the European pro teams that banked upon NHL talent to get them all the way down the stretch;

2. And I have no doubt that Babcock asked Lidstrom if he wasn't 1,000% certain that he planned on keeping the skates off, nor would I be surprised that Babcock and the Wings have been hoping that Lidstrom had been suffering from the hockey version of "restless leg syndrome" throughout the lockout's duration.

 

Okay, finally, as for myself...

I was not absent due to a minor illness. As many of you know, I struggle with depression and an anxiety disorder, and I had and am still having a pretty severe depressive episode.

I'm doing my damnedest to return because there's going to be NHL hockey, but I'm going to be honest in telling you that the first day was incredibly hard, and I'm going to be honest in telling you that I don't know how active my coverage is going to be this year, or whether I'm going to be at "100% old George" level. I can only promise you my best effort and let you know that I'm availing myself of all of my "natural supports" (family and friends) and the medical assistance I qualify for as an uninsured person.

I wish I could make some promises or guarantees as to what "the plan" is, but right now, "the plan" is to take things day by day and hope that I improve. Where am I heading to? Which games will I attend? What's the long-term plan? I can't give you answers to any of those questions, because I'm very literally "shift to shift," never mind, "day to day," at this point. I don't want to overwhelm you with personal information, either--and I will keep updates to a professional minimum after this post--but I deal with depression and anxiety on disabling levels, and when someone's been gone for three months, it hasn't been for shits and giggles. It's been a long and painful road, and all I can do right now is try to get back into my routine and hope for the neurochemical best.

I certainly haven't re-earned your support or readership, but I hope I can be of some use. Given the genes dealt and the wonky brain chemistry, that is really my goal, period--to be of some use to others, and to try my best to make the world a better place in my own little way. If blogging is all I can do, and if it's part-time, marred by absences, whatever, it'll still be enough.

That, and it's my first day back, so I'd ask for some patience. In the words of Homer Simpson, when he nearly starts World War III after taking command of a submarine, "Quack quack quack."

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Comments

Soupsnake's avatar

Great stuff! Keep it up George, we missed you!

Posted by Soupsnake from Canton, Mi on 01/12/13 at 10:10 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Welcome back, George and just do as you said:  Take it a day at a time.  No need to push yourself as you would normally do.  Will be happy to read whatever you are able to generate without setting yourself back.

Take care.  (I mean that!)

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 01/12/13 at 11:40 AM ET

mrfluffy's avatar

Great stuff as always George. I’m hoping having the NHL back in some fashion helps.

Posted by mrfluffy from Long Beach on 01/12/13 at 12:48 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.