The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/23/11 at 08:31 PM ET
The Detroit Red Wings received the day off today and will spend Easter with their families, but if the Wings’ comments on Friday are to be believed, it’s a pretty safe bet that Al Sobotka had to resurface the ice at Joe Louis Arena after a few players skated on their own today, and it’s highly likely that Kris Draper and at least a couple of his teammates at least went down to the Joe to work out or spend quality time with the team’s trainers and doctors.
The Wings’ pro scouts remain on the road, crisscrossing the U.S. and Western Canada to observe the Wings’ potential second-round opponents, and given Mike Babcock’s personality, he probably woke up at 6:17 AM and headed down to the rink to work on drills designed to keep the Wings’ level of attention to detail razor-sharp, and he, Paul MacLean, Brad McCrimmon and Keith McKittrick are surely watching video of their potential opponents, looking for weaknesses to exploit and power play tendencies to stifle as the Wings hope to improve their penalty-killing.
In other words, while you and I might think that nothing’s going on with the Wings today because there’s no formal practice, that’s simply not the case, and while I understand that a “slow day” like this might strike those of us now accustomed to watching the Wings play every other night as a little bit boring, there’s also something to be said for spending an either religious holiday or regular weekend punctuated by an extra day off (due to the fact that some people believe that the Easter Bunny’s coming on Sunday) rooting for every one of the Wings’ possible opponents to get beaten up, worn down and forced to play seven-game series—if not the Wings’ Eastern Conference foes, because the longer their playoff series go, the later any Wings’ second round series starts…
And while you might be bored or facing a little playoff hockey withdrawal because of the extended break, sometimes fans like you and me have to sacrifice a little bit so that our team gets healthy and avoids getting ground into playoff hamburger now because we want them to keep giving our hearts, blood pressure and anxiety levels workouts for at least another six weeks.
In this day and age, between the fact that the media knows that you still want news and the fact that people like me have OCD and don’t know how to take a day off, there’s always something to read. “Slow days” and “boring” days come in July and August, not in the NHL.
So I’ll wish you a “Frohe Ostern,” or a Happy Easter in German, because my worst Easter memory involves sitting in a church in Luzern, Switzerland, with the top edge of the pew extending out a good eight inches in front to either aid in kneeling or, more likely, make your back hurt like hell while having to deal with a two-and-a-half-hour-long German Catholic Easter ceremony because Divine Child’s Frau Kelly wouldn’t let high-schoolers on a trans-Atlantic trip miss the fun.
As for the Wings, the Free Press’s Helene St. James took note of the fact that Draper will probably ask the rink workers at the Joe to turn on the lights tomorrow as well (the Joe is always occupied, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by at least security and some sort of maintenance crew) because his family chose to head to Florida for Easter break without their dad:
“This is their break and this is something they do,” Draper said after Friday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. “I get a Saturday and Sunday off and they’re hanging at the beach and pool in Florida.”
Draper joked that he might end up spending Sunday with teammates Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm.
“Maybe I’ll hide some eggs around the house and invite Helmer and Abby over and we can have a little Easter egg hunt and see who gets more,” Draper said. “I’ll see if they’re up for that.”
Although the players were technically given two days off to rest before they’re scheduled to return back to practice on Monday, Draper said a group of guys would likely meet up to get in a workout today. Tomas Holmstrom said there’s really no time off in the playoffs: “Even if you don’t skate you go to the gym and work out.”
Nicklas Lidstrom will have his whole family in town to celebrate Easter. His oldest son, Kevin, returned home for the Easter break from Sweden, where he is enrolled in a hockey school.
“He had a great time over there,” Lidstrom said. “He’s just here for a couple weeks. He’ll be back (in Sweden) once Easter’s over.”
As the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness suggests, one of Kris Draper’s Easter egg hunters has provided the Wings with the most effective physical forechecking presence since Dallas Drake was imported from Traverse City in 2008 to separate opposing defensemen from the puck, and one Darren Helm spoke to Pleiness at length about his job, which he insists does not involve any sort of intent to injure…
“My only thought is to hit him, get a good check, clean check,” Helm said after practice Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “(Your) eyes kind of light up a bit when you go in to hit somebody hard and make my presence felt.”
But does, as Pleiness notes, involve maximizing a gangly, 5’11,” supposedly 200-pound frame’s effectiveness:
“The older you get the stronger you get physically, you kind of mature into your body,” Helm said. “That’s a big part of it. Knowing and feeling the league out, having a better idea of the kind of pressure guys are going to put on you, and how much strength you need to give back has a lot to do with it as well, just that experience.”
Helm is one of the Wings’ fastest skaters and can really turn on the afterburners when chasing down a defenseman in the opposition’s zone.
“The first few steps I have are pretty quick so I can get a little bit of momentum going,” Helm said. “With those few steps, if I’m (in) that tight the defenseman’s probably not too aware I’m going to hit him as hard as I’m going to try to hit him. It’s just a little surprise. I feel like I’m a pretty strong guy and that definitely helps a little bit.”
The Wings’ defensemen have no doubts as to the would-be string-bean turned physical force’s effectiveness:
“I’m happy he’s on our team,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He just never gives up. He just keeps coming after you. With those legs he’s flying out there, so quick and so fast and yet so strong. It’s tough as a D-man to up against someone like that. He just never goes away.”
“It is (hard to play against him),” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. “When you’re practicing against a guy like that, there are not many guys in the league that can skate with him. He has speed, is being smart and plays physical[.] He’s going to be a pretty big force for us[.]. To have a guy like that on your bottom two lines really gives you that extra dimension of being able to roll everybody. He was big for us. And he’s been doing a good job of that all year long.”
Independent journalist Greg Eno also posted a sans-quotes profile of Helm, but I’ve never understood why Eno prefers to first post on a site where anybody can become a “columnist” and write anything they want.
In “Wings of the future” news, the next player the Wings hope will turn into a Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, or, in his case, Dallas Drake II, spoke to the Kelowna Capital News’s Kevin Parnell about the disappointing conclusion of his junior career.
Wings prospect Mitchell Callahan possesses similar dimensions to Helm when he turned pro—he’s 5’10” or 5’11” and probably weighs 180 pounds in his equipment—but the scrappy forward, plucky forechecker and occasional fighter has speed to burn and the kind of, “Go to the net, get cross-checked five times, get pushed down, cross-checked in the head once or twice and pop right back up and go right back to the front of the net” enthusiasm that the Wings value almost as much as they covet puck-moving defensemen.
Callahan’s Kelowna Rockets lost to the Portland Winterhawks in the second round of the WHL playoffs, and while Callahan registered five goals, four assists and 9 points over the course of 10 playoff games, he went out with a fight. He’s upset about the fact that his team went out without much of one over the course of six games, however, as the Rockets were absolutely peppered by 35-45 Portland shots per game and were basically kept alive by the performance of as-yet-undrafted goalie Adam Brown.
Callahan is still recovering from his team’s 4-2 ouster last Sunday, and as Parnell suggests, while Callahan never won a Memorial Cup, he’s certainly proven his critics wrong over the course of his junior career:
“I was just thinking it would probably be my last game,” he said. “It was tough but I think everyone was feeling for (20-year-olds) Geordie Wudrick, Zak Stebner and Evan Bloodoff. Everyone was so close on this team and we bonded together so well. It sucks losing but that’s hockey.”
And it’s another fact in junior hockey that players come in and move out. And as much as Kelowna fans would love to see Callahan play one more year in a Rockets uniform, you only have to look at the Whittier, California natives history to see that it’s not likely. As a 17-year-old, Callahan walked into the Rockets training camp as an undrafted player and used his scrappy play to make the team as a tough guy in his first year. That made Callahan a popular player amongst Kelowna fans. Over the next two years he was suddenly a point producer and a player that wasn’t scared of anyone.
“When I came here Bruce Hamilton welcomed me with open arms,” said Callahan. “I can’t thank him and Lorne Frey enough for me giving me the chance to play. It’s been the best experience of my life.”
This year Callahan came from off the Team USA charts to be invited to and then make the USA World Junior team in another example of his determination to succeed. So what to expect next year from a guy whose work ethic keeps taking him to higher levels?
“My goal is to play pro but if not I would be happy to come back to Kelowna,” said Callahan. “I have a lot of maturing to do on and off the ice this summer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to move to the next level. Hopefully one day I can work my way up to play in Joe Louis Arena.”
The Red Wings will probably ask him to play with the Grand Rapids Griffins next year, and if there’s ever a prospect whose heart and work ethic could all but guarantee an NHL future, I’d stake the condo on Callahan becoming an NHL’er some day.
Here’s how he went out, via Hockeyfights:
And finally, there is some irony in the fact that Fox Sports Detroit almost lovingly crafted a spoof video of an octopus-throwing Larry Murphy (a.k.a. “Mr. X,” who can run much faster in a video than he could ever skate on the ice) prior to the NHL, Detroit Police and possibly the Wings’ decision to allow the City of Detroit to make an easy $500 off any fan brave enough to toss a cephalopod onto the ice:
This is adorable. Absolutely adorable, and it includes a good plug for the Superior Fish Company, which, if you’re willing to drop $500, will still both sell you an octopus and tell you how and when to throw ‘em. Of course, the Wings’ players tell FSD’s Mickey York that they adored the tradition while it lasted…
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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.