PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The Detroit Red Wings have always had a very passionate fan base.
Many of them make a special trip to Traverse City every September to watch the team during training camp.
Because of the lockout and the 48-game season, the Wings are having to adjust to a much quicker schedule.
So instead of Traverse City, the Wings settled in at Compuware Arena, home of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, for the start of their abbreviated camp. Ford Motor Company is using Joe Louis Arena for part of this week for a couple of events with the North American International Auto Show.
The Wings will practice at Compuware through Tuesday, take Wednesday off and then return to Joe Louis Arena Thursday.
The 3,504-seat arena appeared to be about half-full for the Wings’ first day of practice Sunday.
“It was great to be officially skating again with all the guys,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Lot of fans here, great experience, felt like we were in Traverse City.”
Niklas Kronwall, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Saturday, said being able to be back with his teammates was the best birthday present he could have received.
“It felt like Christmas, almost,” Kronwall said. “When you’re looking forward to something for so long, to finally have it, it felt really good out there.”
Coach Mike Babcock was also feeling grateful to be back in the job he loves.
“I told the guys this morning I really missed them,” Babcock said. “We’ve got great people on this team, being around them all the time is a thrill for me. Even watching (Sunday), how hard they worked and how they compete, it’s pretty special to get to do what we all do for a living. We’re just thankful the fans have stuck with us. It’s unbelievable that our season ticket base, they’re all still there. It’s crazy.”
Sunday morning the Wings recalled defensemen Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff and forward Damien Brunner from the Grand Rapids Griffins, their American Hockey League affiliate.
With Nick Lidstrom retiring and the Wings accommodating Brad Stuart’s request to return home to California, the Wings will need players like Smith to step up on the blue line.
However, despite having success with the Griffins, forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson won’t get a chance in this camp to show what they can do. But they could be called upon later.
“Normally in a five-week training camp you get an opportunity to give everybody over eight exhibition games the power play, the penalty kill, everything to really show what they have,” Babcock said. “That’s not going to happen. So it’s very important as a player, if you don’t like your lot you’ve been giving day one, that you choose your attitude right, you work hard and you stay (ready). There’s going to be a ton of injuries, you’re going to get an opportunity. If you’ve done a good job, your opportunity’s going to grow.
“The same thing, though, just because it’s gone good for you in the past, you’ve got a whole bunch of guys that have been skating, you’ve got four or five kids in the minors that have played great, they’re ready to go. So it’s going to be competitive within our division, it’s going to be competitive within our conference and it’s going to be really competitive within our team.”