Post-Game… courtesy of Tyler (get the popcorn)

(Note: tonight’s post-game was written by our very good friend, the quasi-retired All-World blogger Tyler from The Triple Deke. While he is enjoying his time in metaphorical Florida, playing shuffleboard and eating dinner at 3pm, he has an open invitation to contribute here — and we hope he takes us up on it, or — at least — re-opens the doors to the mecca that was TTD.)

Well, what an honor this is, gracing the pages of The Production Line, a site that I remember reading about as a little boy in Sports Illustrated, and a site that one John Keating described as, “Prime naked reading with the lights out material” live, on the air, while eating a bushel of curly fries in the mold of Chris Hollis’ head.  Definitely the high point in my life, I’d say. I just wish the high point of my entire life were graced with tiny golden giraffes and strippers strewn about on the furniture like a week’s worth of laundry.  Instead there’s 26 empty Vernors cans, a picture I drew of me and Mike Babcock in a 3-legged sack race, and a cat licking his balls.  Fuck me.

To the game bullets!

  • Jeff Carter was out as he continues to nurse a hairline fracture. What a pussy. Ryan Getzlaf has been playing with this injury for like four straight years.
  • Larry Murphy on Shea Weber’s $2,500 fine: “That’s a non-suspension”.  Which is sort of like saying a tree is a non-suspension. So is an apple pie. So is a speeding ticket. So is James Earl Jones. None of these things are suspensions.
  • Red Wings are 5-0-0-(0?) for the first time in four decades.  When contacted by the media the Detroit Lions responded, “CAN WE JUST HAVE ONE FUCKING THING?”
  • Mickey Redmond called the suspension-laden preseason, “The ol’ spend a nickel to make a dime theory.”  I’ve never heard this phrase, but I always enjoy new synonyms for “New York Islanders”.
  • FSD showed a cool clip of Datsyuk and Hudler working at Tim Horton’s and surprising customers.  Datsyuk apparently signed a coffee cup for one lucky fan while working the drive-thru.  While most professional athletes would simply sign their name, Datsyuk wrote, “Working conditions not good.  Weird animals out by trash dumpsters.  Possible Chupacabra situation.  Send help.” Datsyuk was later seen fending off a confused Jiri Hudler with a spork.
  • Tomorrow against the Capitals, Nick Lidstrom will become just the 4th Red Wing to play in his 1500th game. What I find especially incredible is that he hasn’t missed a game since the 2008-09 season. In playing all 82 games in both the ’09-10 and ’10-11 seasons, he became the first NHL player aged 38 or older to play a full season in back-to-back years. And yet, that still doesn’t sound quite as ridiculous as this: He’s been in every EA Sports hockey video game except the very first one, which I think was played with a bag of marbles and 12-sided dice.
  • Franzen playing center, Filppula playing wing: 3 goals and 7 points for them on the night. During postgame, Fil told Trevor Thompson that the Mule passed over a hat trick because of how his goal-scoring luck panned out the last time he had a hat trick. Oh come on, Mulo – it wasn’t so bad! What, like 2 goals over the last 3 months and a number of folks on the webs, including this site, and the guy currently writing this sentence, maybe, talking about how moving you wouldn’t be such a bad idea?  Yeah I’m kind of glad Fil got the empty netter.
  • Overall, pretty good win considering the Wings had 33 shots-against and double-digit giveaways.  When you win by three and look mediocre doing it, coming off another huge layoff, that has to be a good sign. Honestly, after looking at how the schedule was set up, if you told me at the start of the year that we’d be 5-0-0, I’d be very surprised.  So I am now pleasantly surprised. Because I’m not a liar.
  • Since Petrella isn’t here, I’ll take a wild guess at what was going through his mind when Ericsson fought Derek Dorsett:

“Man, It feels great being Michael Petrella, considering I base my entire worth as a human being around the curb-stomping I put on Tyler in that euchre game at H2H2 that I’m sure he’s still bitter about and can’t get over, which feels amazing because I totally got away with cheating and he doesn’t know it hahaha. I am good-looking .”

/gloves dropped/

“This fuckwit.  Looks like a drunk mummy trying to unhook Frank Costanza’s bra.  Bet he’s one of those people who buys paper plates so he doesn’t have to do dishes, only he then ends up using the paper plates for every other daily task out of laziness, like leaving notes or using them as coasters. This is totally a thing by the way, Self, you are definitely not crazy. People do this. You may have crazy thoughts from time-to-time, but this is not one of them. You are still good-looking.”

/fight/

“Hey, not too shabby, Shitbox. I’d say he looks more like a mummy after just two drinks, and instead of Frank Costanza’s bra, it’s more like Mila Kunis’ bra.  Not that he could get with Mila Kunis, because if he did I would kill myself. I would fucking kill myself. Everything that I know about this planet would be upside-down and black would be white and dogs and cats and Bea Arthur doing Zumba–”

/Mickey Redmond/ “ If he keeps punching the back of his head he’s gonna break his hand!”

“…. /Petrellagasm/….”

One More Dose of Inspiration

Petrella mentioned it in today’s pregame, but it’s been one hell of an offseason for anyone who is a fan of the sport. Nothing helps ease the pain of a trying time like familiarity, and that’s exactly what we will get today when the Wings take to the ice and begin their campaign for greatness anew.

Right after the incident in Russia, I received a number of e-mails from folks referencing the piece I wrote at the beginning of the season last year and letting me know that they felt that the sentiments within were never more appropriate based on all of the tragedy that has surrounded the game of hockey this year. I was surprised that so many folks remembered it and was even more surprised that the message continued to carry on, even after a year of sitting on the shelf. More than one person had asked if I planned on writing something similar this season, and frankly, the thought didn’t really cross my mind. Maybe it’s because when last season started, the Wings were no longer Central champs and there was nothing concrete and stable to latch on to that would make folks feel safe and secure again. Emotion carried the day and over the course of the season we found our rocks of support.

This year feels less emotional and more businesslike for the Wings, which (in my mind) is a good thing. The transition from old to young is full steam ahead, and the uncertainty of this year pales in comparison to last year. Sure, there will continue to be bumps, but there’s just something about this season that makes me feel like the Wings are finally ready to make a run at reclaiming true greatness. New players. New coaches. New mentality. When Pope John XXIII called to order the Second Vatican Council, he famously threw open the windows in St. Peter’s Basilica and declared that it was his intent to “let in some fresh air,” symbolic of the change that the Catholic Church needed at that time. The Red Wings are in the process of doing the same, and when names like Emmerton, White, Brunnstrom and Mursak are on the ice, the message will be loud and clear: change is happening and it’s time to get on board.

It’s OK to be nervous when the puck drops. That’s human nature. So is change, and there has been so much of it this offseason that a regular season hockey game may be just what the doctor ordered  for the sport’s fanbase. Rather than write something completely new, I’ll harken back to last year’s post and let it do the talking. It seems so fitting and so right. Just like regular season hockey in Detroit.

Tonight, fans both young and old will walk through the red plastic curtains and see a surface that means something completely different to every set of eyes that view it. For some, it will be the first gaze of a lifetime. For others, it will serve as familiar source of comfort and reassurance that one of the constants in life has returned yet again. Many will watch the game on its surface and will worry about things that they just can’t control. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s difficult to contain, but emotions are a powerful force and a very real one at that. Some will wonder if this is the last time a guy named Nick will take the ice for a home opener or whether or not a young goalie named Jimmy has what it takes to lead his team to a series of victory laps around the chewed up surface next summer. Yes, there will be worry and there will be excitement. There will be joy and there will be despair. There will be wins and there will be losses. It’s inevitable and ultimately accepted.

Through it all, though, IT will be there for each and every game, knowing full well that the game it supports is what all of those emotions are ultimately about. And while it can’t ultimately dictate the wins and losses on any given night, there are some who believe that a frozen sheet of water is a living, breathing thing. Maybe it shifts ever so slightly to pool the water in a certain way that causes an errant pass to somehow find the tape of a teammate. Maybe a fortuitous bounce off of the surface leads to a goal instead of a save. Who are we to tell them they are wrong? Who are we to cast doubts on those beliefs? Some people believe in God. Others believe in a higher power. Some believe in fate, luck and chance. Us? We believe in hockey.

Red Wings hockey to be exact.

The season is upon us. Hockey is back.

It’s ready.

LGRW.

Damn right.

Increasing the Workload

A strange thing happens when the off-season boredom sets in. Fans spend our free time dreaming about which rookie blows the doors off of training camp and comes out of nowhere to make the team. Perhaps we’re all brainstorming, thinking of potential returns for “Hudler and a 2nd.” Or maybe we’ll scribble some dream lines on a cocktail napkin in an effort to speed October 7th along.

And then an even stranger thing happens. Guys make their way into lineup spots that they don’t necessarily belong. No matter how much I’d love it, Todd Bertuzzi isn’t a fourth line kind of guy. Patrick Eaves has taken a few spins on Pav’s wing… and it just seems wrong. Darren Helm, as awesome as he is at nearly everything he’s thrust into, isn’ t a top six forward.

And that’s okay.

Darren Helm is a monster on the penalty kill, and does amazing things with limited ice time. Could he survive an increase in responsibility and icetime? Maybe. Patrick Eaves does a whole lot with very little ice time, and has proven he’s a viable scoring option when he’s relied upon. Does that mean he can be one of the two human beings who gets to play with arguably the most dynamic center on Earth? Hey, perhaps.

But it isn’t as easy as simply jotting it onto a napkin. Why, yes! I do have anecdotes!

When I played in college, I got very few minutes. I was an “end of the bench,” 4-8 minutes a night kind of player. There were some games that I, literally, only saw one shift. On every stage, there are guys that are big minute players, and there are complimentary players that have found a niche or play a certain role well.

I played on the fourth line, occasionally bounced up to the third. My linemates changed on a near-daily basis. That kind of depth role doesn’t afford the luxury of allowing chemistry to form, and you were sort of expected to make due with what little time you had to prepare together, which — frankly — didn’t bother any of us. Our top line consisted of three unbelievable hockey players who played nearly every minute together, and none of us would have changed that, even if it meant a handful more minutes to be spread around. In the bottom six, where I was firmly entrenched, guys would swap in and out of the lineup, a la the Drew Miller/Kris Draper/Jiri Hudler rotation from last season.

One weekend, in the middle of the season and right before our Thanksgiving break from school, we took the one trip that required a flight (we flew commercial, Modano would have hated it). In the third period of the first game of a back-to-back weekend 1,800 miles away from home, the second line’s center took a chop on the wrist. It was ugly, purple, and swollen. We would learn that he wouldn’t be able to play the Saturday matinee.

Like he always did before a game, Coach comes into the locker room with a piece of paper and runs through the night’s lines. The top line went as it always had, with our three superstars’ names said all in a row. He would continue, “line 2, centered by Petrella…”

Wait, what?

The night before, I played on the fourth line — maybe five or six minutes of ice time. The norm. But today, I was going to be getting top six minutes, which meant somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen. To say I was ill-prepared to hear that would be an understatement. If there was a camera in the locker room, it would have caught a bewildered look on my face, with wheels turning as if I was holding back from asking, “are you sure you don’t mean… anyone else in this room?”

The increased workload was staggering. On most nights, I was expected to give our top six a minute to catch their breath, maybe beat out an icing call, and generally not do anything stupid that my team would have to pay for. That day, however, my job was to line up against some of the other team’s top players (a team, by the way, that came into the weekend ranked 7th in the nation) and be counted upon to contribute to the narrative in a game like I’d never done before.

I did admirably, in that I didn’t do anything overtly stupid to prove to the world I didn’t belong there. Oh, except maybe this (yeah, that’s 8 seconds of actual audio from that game). It wasn’t a role I relished in. And it wasn’t a role that I felt I could do for more than a game at a time. After the break, we were nearing full health and I was relegated back to the bottom six. You know… where I belonged.

Can someone like Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, or Darren Helm overcome the magnificent jump in responsibility and talent that they’d see bouncing from the fourth to the second? Maybe they can — they’re all capable hockey players and nothing seems to bother them: whether it’s a healthy scratching or a game where they see fewer minutes than usual.

Some players relish in their roles. Other guys succeed in whatever role they’re thrown. Others still take some time to get used to new ones. On the Red Wings, guys have been fortunate to develop at their own pace (like Zetterberg seeing fourth and third line minutes in his first years) to eventually become what we all hope they can. If Darren Helm is your second line center, it won’t be all of a sudden — it’ll start in the third period of a blowout game… or rotating in when someone gets injured and has to leave the game… or as an emergency fill-in when two guys get hurt on a road trip. I’d like to see him get the chance, but I hope no one bails on him if it’s proven that he’s more useful to the team as a third or fourth line guy.

You can’t win without some killer fourth liners.

When Dr. Feelgood Rides the Bus

First things first, if you haven’t already read Justin Bourne’s latest at Puck Daddy about painkillers in hockey, do so immediately. He raises a lot of excellent points and was the inspiration for this follow-up.

I saw a lot of things playing hockey. Most were wonderful. Some were scary, bordering on horrifying. And others were sad and a little disappointing. I won’t claim to be perfect, or that I am without vices of my own, but I generally steered clear of trouble (to the point where my parents recently admitted that they sorta hoped I’d do something “bad” or “reckless” once in a while, since apparently volunteering to get hit by guys twice my size going 30mph or lay my body in front of frozen rubber moving 100mph isn’t quite reckless enough). When it came to things like drugs and alcohol, I was — and continue to be — as far removed from that world as you can be.

I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner from time to time. Or sit down for a beer with my father-in-law. And that’s about the extent of it. I can count on a single finger how many times I’ve been fall-down drunk where I needed help functioning. It’s a horrible feeling, and I can’t understand why people volunteer to feel that way often.

During a painful off-season that has seen the hockey world lose two young and promising men in Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, you begin to reflect on some of the memories of your own playing days and frighteningly piece together eerie similarities. Painkillers have been at least partly to blame for one of those deaths, and we’re not quite sure about the other one just yet.

Both were tough guys, and it remains to be seen if chronic traumatic encephalopathy played a part in their deaths, as it may have with legendary fighter Bob Probert. And while I agree with many of my fellow bloggers that it might be inappropriate timing to breach the subject of fighting’s place in the game at the moment, it is a subject that’s going to have to be discussed. Personally, I’ve always thought that fighting does have a place in the sport, and that the guys that do it are among the more noble of athletes. But if what they do is, quite literally, killing young men, it may be time to take a closer look. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Today’s problem is drug use in our game. Despite Boogaard’s death, you can’t convince me that drug use is rampant in hockey or that it’s a problem among our players. In fact, I’d bet my house on the exact opposite. Compared to basketball and football (and even baseball, if you count steroids), I’d wager that hockey is the cleanest of all of the major sports. But while we may think of our heroes as saints, they are human after all and many will indulge in what will squarely be viewed as a dark side from this day forward.

As early as 14, I remember kids taking mild painkillers before games, and without any existing injury, to take the edge off of the inevitable body checks they were about to receive. I politely refused when offered, preferring instead to feel every bone in my body as they throbbed after big collisions (that kind of pain lets you know you’re alive is what it does).

Bourne is absolutely right about a couple of main points: A) You will, under no circumstances, make it through a season without getting hurt. That is an absolute fact and you’re kidding yourself if you think you can go an entire game unscathed, let alone a season or a career. And B) There will very likely be a time during your hockey days that an Advil won’t cut it. The painkillers that are being used (legally, even) can do some wonderful things to dull the agony, and when used responsibly help lots of Americans get through their daily tribulations.

But that kind of medication scares the hell out of me. While I wouldn’t say that I have a very addictive personality (in that respect), nor does substance abuse run in my family, I could sense the danger in getting accustomed to the kind of nirvana that it promised. Soon enough, as Bourne says, that little bit becomes a little more and a little more until you can’t feel normal without it. And therein lies the rub.

I had my knee operated on in 2009 following years of pain that I had become, more or less, used to. At first, my knee troubles were dismissed as growing pains… and then a type of juvenile arthritis… and then a degenerative muscle disorder… until finally, at the ripe age of 27, it was determined that, yes, in fact, there was a pretty big problem under there. I had a benign cyst growing under my kneecap, one that likely started as an overcompensating immune system attempted to repair an injury to one of the internal ligaments. The cyst had wrapped itself around the joint and the ligaments within it, causing my entire left leg to be solid as a rock at all times, which in turn made walking down stairs difficult. While I may have put my body through a lot by 27, it certainly wasn’t enough to have difficulty walking and I finally went for a fifth (or sixth, I lost count) opinion. The New York Knicks orthopedic surgeon found the mass (which was hidden from traditional MRIs) and said he needed to go in there and scoop it out. Should be as good as new in a week. Liar.

While the surgery went well and I was assured that anything potentially damaging had been removed, I’m not sure I was properly prepared for the brand of pain that was coming my way when the anesthetic wore off. Anesthetic, by the way, that I begged them not to use. In the past, I’d had difficulty awakening from general anesthesia. First, at the dentist, and then after a necessary procedure in college. Instead, I asked, can you just give me the local anesthetic and I’ll sit here quietly staring at the ceiling tiles? The surgeon and anesthesiologist both assured me that I wanted no part of being awake during the knee operation, and promised they’d give me the lightest dose imaginable.

Still, I woke up much later than they said I would, and perhaps that’s where my fear of painkillers in general comes from. They sent me on my way, sans crutches but with a prescription for Oxycodone. This was one of those times mentioned above where a painkiller would become necessary, as the haze wears off in the hours and days following surgery. However, I refused to fill that prescription, instead opting to “soldier through” the pain and do what I could with an Aleve here and there.

I’m not going to pretend I was a man about it, or that I made the right call. Because that kind of pain is just a shade under unbearable, where you briefly consider asking your wife to hit you with a sledgehammer so you’ll feel nothing instead of excruciating agony. I’m not going to be shy here: I cried like a little girl when the anesthetic finally wore all the way off around 1 in the morning. It hurt so bad I could hear and taste it. That may sound ridiculous, but trust me… it’s an awful existence twelve hours after surgery.

Did Derek Boogaard have that kind of agony in May? Was Rick Rypien recovering from something last week? Did the kids on my high school hockey team think that popping Vicodin on a normal day would make them invincible? I don’t have the answers to those questions, but what I do have are more anecdotes that only lead to further questions.

At one point, I had a teammate that would drop acid before games, when he knew we wouldn’t be tested, for one of two reasons. It either made him a better hockey player when he couldn’t feel his legs, or he was a complete fucking lunatic. The things he did when he was inebriated like that were borderline scary… and he was on my side of the scary. I don’t know what happened to him, as we’ve lost touch over the years, but if you were to tell me that he was in prison or dead, I’d be sad for the loss, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

In college, again as Bourne says, it wasn’t uncommon for one guy to pass another a pill before (or, more likely, after) a game. I’m not sure how many of them were pre-med (oh wait, yes I am: zero), but something tells me they weren’t in a position to be distributing on a bus. Again, like high school, I would politely decline and wonder if I was the weird one for not indulging.

That prescription I didn’t fill following my knee surgery? I would later have a teammate (from a men’s league, mind you) offer me a pretty penny if I did get it filled and hand them over to him. I pretended like I lost the slip, apologized and it was never brought up again.

In light of the Boogaard news and the potential for it to have been repeated by Rypien, I don’t feel good about these stories. I don’t feel like I took a moral high road and that I was able to steer clear of peer pressure. I feel like I let teammates down by not helping if they needed it. They may not have all been abusing it, but we’ve all learned recently that it doesn’t take a whole lot to derail that train permanently. If any of us needed that kind of medical attention, we had doctors and trainers and managers nearby to help us. Something tells me the guys with their hands out in the back of the bus weren’t in the kind of pain that required what they were swallowing.

And all I can do now is hope that they live longer than Rypien’s 27. Or Boogaard’s 28. Or Probert’s 45.

And that no one ever has to wonder if they’d done enough to help a teammate.

Brett Lebda, that’s who.

Sad Lebda is Sad

Well, that was odd.

On July 7, 2010, former Red Wing defenseman Brett Lebda was signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs to a two-year deal worth an astronomical $2.9M (or, if you prefer, 45% of an Ericsson annually). Almost immediately, and by fans not in Toronto, the deal was panned as one of the worst in recent memory. It brought about Jeff Finger-level LOLs. It wasn’t Brett Lebda’s fault — he took what was offered, just like you and I would.

Just a few days shy of a year later, having already fallen out of favor in Toronto and essentially becoming their expensive version of Jakub Kindl, he was traded to Nashville with Robert Slaney, a guy that split last season between the AHL and ECHL, for very useful former Predator Cory Franson and the concussed Matthew Lombardi. Again, not Brett Lebda’s fault — he was relied upon to be something that he wasn’t capable of being and couldn’t live up to extraordinary expectations.

39 days later, and without even having a jersey number assigned to him in Music City, he was bought out and was again in search of employment. Per the CBA, the Predators will pay him 2/3 of his remaining salary over the next two years. Which means he’ll get nearly a million dollars NOT to play in Nashville, no matter what kind of contract he signs with another team — or, even, another league. That’s not Brett Lebda’s fault, either — he wasn’t even given a chance to redeem himself or prove his detractors wrong.

It may be chic to make fun of Brett Lebda, and point out all of the boneheaded things he’s done in six NHL seasons. Such as:

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda went -3 in a game that his team won 9-3?

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda got in his only NHL fight… and was given a misconduct for not having his jersey tied down?

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda got lit up and interviewed a sportscaster whose name he couldn’t remember?

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda scored his only goal of the season, and that’s all that was needed to yank Alex Auld?

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda gathered his bestest bros and ate Lucky Charms…like a boss?

:: ‘Memba when Brett Lebda was a speedy 5-foot-9 Midwesterner born in 1982 who played collegiate hockey, went undrafted and was forced to look to other industries for employment? Oh wait, sorry.

And maybe that’s why I’ve always had a soft spot for Brett Lebda. For me, personally, he was “one of us” that made it. His hard work and hockey skill allowed him to beat the odds and avoid becoming a shoe salesman. Or an accountant.

Or a casting director.

The fact is, he’s accomplished more in 400+ NHL games than 99% of us could ever dream. And all he needed was a chance.

Like so many of us, he toiled in a suburban Michigan high school and made sacrifices so that he could spend as much time as possible on the ice. He stayed semi-local, and chose to play hockey and go to school in Indiana, at the venerable Notre Dame, despite only a handful of NHLers coming from the program. He played all four seasons for the Irish after not having been drafted in 2000. Or 2001. Or ever.

It wasn’t until after graduation in 2004 that the Detroit Red Wings offered him a shot as a free agent. The rest, as they say, is history.

He earned a contract, turned pro and joined the Griffins (since the lockout wouldn’t allow him to hop directly to the Red Wings). When NHL hockey resumed in 2005-06, guess who found himself on the opening night roster for his once-hometown Detroit Red Wings? Brett Lebda, that’s who.

Guess who scored a goal in his first NHL game — the first NHL game in over a year. Brett Lebda did.

Guess who helped pick up the slack following a terrifying incident with fellow blueliner Jiri Fischer. Brett Lebda did.

Guess who was trusted enough to play in all of the post-season games in his rookie year? Brett Lebda was.

Guess who had the chance to be mentored by childhood hero Chris Chelios? Brett Lebda.

Guess who has more Stanley Cup rings on his hand than Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perrault, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Pat LaFontaine, and Mike Gartner combined? Brett Lebda, that’s who.

While that last one might be a tad unfair because Brett Lebda is by no means a better hockey player than those fine gentlemen, it’s important to remember he’s not nearly as bad as it’s become trendy to pretend he is. Was he overpaid when he jumped north of the border? Yeah, probably. But imagine being Brett Lebda… or me… or any of us who had an eerily similar upbringing. Would you jump at the chance to play for another Original Six team and get a hefty paycheck for the privilege? You bet your ass you would.

So here’s hoping Mr. Lebda lands on his feet, if for no other reason than to continue to give us speedy 5-foot-9 Midwesterners a little bit of hope as we stare at the walls of our cubicles or offices or audition rooms daydreaming we’re at morning skate. The closest I ever got to beginning a list of accolades like his was an invitation to attend Toronto St. Michael’s Majors camp in 1997 when they came back from quasi-extinction (an invitation I didn’t take because I was terrified) and a modest (at best) collegiate stat line that features more penalty minutes than goals scored. Brett Lebda is one of us that made good and plugged away until it happened and that, friends, deserves our respect.

Three Thoughts: Bertuzzi’s Resurgence, Howard’s Way and Hockey Day in America

Bertuzzi’s Big Day

I have a bone to pick.

The other night, I wandered over to the NHL Shop website looking to spend a $25 gift certificate that I had received over the holiday season. As soon as I hit the site, I knew what I was going to buy: a red t-shirt with the Winged Wheel on the front and “Bertuzzi/44” on the back. So I started searching in the player apparel section, only to realize that the area in question could only satisfy my retail shopping needs if I was looking for a Datsyuk, Zetterberg or Lidstrom shirt. Undaunted, I headed over to the “customize” tab on the site, figuring that it would take a few more minutes and a couple of extra bones out of my wallet to get me a customized shirt in the mail.

Wrong.

After numerous attempts at trying to get the Bertuzzi shirt, the website remained steadfast in its assertion that I could not customize my apparel with a current roster player. So there I sat, not really sure what to do. I thought about putting the money towards a Bertuzzi jersey. I flirted with the possibility of customizing a shirt with “52” and “Shitbox” on the back. In the end, though, I did what 90% of all Wings fans out there wind up doing: I ordered a Datsyuk shirt.

While some might be disappointed in not getting what they originally intended to purchase at the store, I’m just thrilled we’ve made it to this point as fans. Todd Bertuzzi is finally doing what the Wings are paying him to do, and god dammit if it doesn’t feel good for everyone involved. Oh sure, there are still Bert haters out there who would prefer he wasn’t on the team, and to those “fans” I give a big wag of my middle finger and a “F**K YOU” to boot. I don’t care that certain folks may dislike Bertuzzi, because I know those same folks were trying to bury a grin after Big Bert canned the game winner and came around the boards smiling like some of us have never seen. Folks, don’t try and act like that didn’t make you feel good. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s OK to like Todd Bertuzzi.

Fact is that Todd Bertuzzi loves Detroit and loves playing for this organization and therefore – via the transitive property – loves each and every one of us that call ourselves Red Wings fans. Following the game, Bert told Darren Pang that this is the best place he’s been during his NHL career. Why wouldn’t it be? When nobody else gave him a chance, Detroit’s given him two. In an offseason without a ton of cap flexibility, Ken Holland found a way to give Bert his payday and then some. On the day of his 1,000 career NHL game, the Wings flew Todd’s entire family to Minnesota to watch Dad/Hubby bury the game clinching goal in the shootout. Things like this don’t happen for a guy who isn’t thankful to be where he is, and Bertuzzi is exactly that.

Perhaps the fans should learn a little lesson from big Todd. You see, rather than bitching and moaning about the guy who will always be linked to that incident with the guy and the place, maybe it’s about time to move past it and just support Todd Bertuzzi, the man. Yes, it’s hard to stand firmly behind a guy who hardly says anything to the media and is covered from head to toe in tattoos, but let’s not forget that this guy is a darn good hockey player and probably an excellent father and husband to boot. It’s taken some time, but Bertuzzi is finally starting to warm up both on and off the ice, which is bound to lead to a fascinating story for those who are prepared to listen.

So for those of you who still send e-mails and tweets wishing Bertuzzi was “somewhere else”: Thank you. Thank you for being so narrow-sighted that you are now making fools out of yourselves. Todd Bertuzzi loves Detroit and he’s here to stay and the sooner you realize that, the faster you can get back to enjoying being a Wings fan. It’s a fun ride and I’m glad Todd’s aboard. Now, if I could just somehow buy a shirt through NHL.com that shows that…

Let’s Not Forget

While the bulk of the focus was on Bertuzzi’s 1,000th career NHL game and shootout win (which, by the way, congratulations Todd…since I failed to mention it in the previous bullet), there’s no way I can get through this post and not mention to stellar performance from Jimmy Howard today. 25 saves in regulation and overtime, but the real gems were the back-to-back stops Howard offered up during the shootout. Jimmah looked focused all day long, and it really came through in his fundamentals and positioning. Havlat’s breakaway goal was one of those 50/50 situations where you never know what’s going to happen, and Howard just happened to be a split second late getting the paddle blade onto the ice. Otherwise, it was a rock solid performance from the NHL’s league leader in wins, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Hockey Day In America

The entire day was screwy, IMO. Awful pregame, weird timing for the games and odd play-by-pairings made for an experience that was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, one of those play-by-play pairings was the Red Wings own Ken Daniels, who wound up covering the Rangers/Flyers game with Joe Micheletti. While it was refreshing to hear Kenny’s voice on NBC throughout the day, I thought that he and Micheletti lacked chemistry until somewhere in the third period of the game, making the first 40 minutes rather awkward and forced. On the other hand, I was very impressed with the Pat Foley/Darren Pang combo that serviced the Wings/Wild game, despite knowing that Foley is the voice of the Chicago Blackhawks. The two had a very solid chemistry with each other, and it really showed throughout the broadcast. Now, if we could just figure out who that Jiri Whodler guy is…

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Part V :: Heading Home with Fewer Shirtuzzis

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
Read Part IV here.

ON BOARD
We climbed the stairs to Red Bird, and it was clear that the players and management just wanted to put this weekend behind them. There weren’t many smiles to be had, but we were assured that the players would be willing to chat and sign some autographs if we wanted to mingle. Like the rest of the weekend, I didn’t want to disrupt them — and I’m not much for autographs, to be honest. I work in an industry where interacting with quote-unquote celebrities is kind of part of the job description and I’ve gotten used to enjoying their company as regular folks, rather than fawning all over them.

But these were my Red Wings. I’ve never loved anything the way I love the Red Wings. I was lucky to be born into a home where hockey was just kind of part of the deal. My mom has been a massive Red Wings fan from the late sixties, and my dad caught onto the game pretty easily once he arrived from Italy. I don’t remember a time in my life that the Red Wings weren’t important.

Nevertheless, I’m not much of an autograph-seeker — at least for myself — but I knew it was a unique opportunity to take advantage of this kind of access to the players and after urging from the team’s media relations manager Todd Beam, who insisted the guys would be honored to take part in signing an H2H2 shirt, I took a stack of t-shirts into the rear of the plane: one for them to sign… and plenty of others to give them as gifts, to thank them for having me over the weekend and for being generally awesome.

OUTFITTING THE WINGS
Before venturing to the rear of the plane, I thought I’d test the waters. After all, Todd Bertuzzi hadn’t been in a fantastic mood all weekend, and maybe handing him a t-shirt with his face on it wouldn’t go over so well. I showed Mr. Beam first, knowing he’d be honest enough to say something along the lines of “oh, no, he’ll totally kill you in the bathroom.” Instead, he had a chuckle which caught the attention of Ruslan Salei, who wanted to see it…which made Jimmy Howard perk up from across the aisle. I figured, hey, maybe some of these guys will have my back if it doesn’t go over as well with Mr. Bertuzzi.

Most of the guys were watching movies and reading eBooks when I headed back, and I hated to bug them, but every last one of them was gracious and willing to chat for a minute. I explained to everyone individually what we’re doing at H2H2, raising money for Children’s Hospital and accepting pledges, and that this H2H2 Shirt will be a prize that folks hope to win.

As Jimmy Howard was signing the shirt, I told him I had a gift for him and pulled a JIMMAH! t-shirt out of my bag. He lost his mind, absolutely loved it. He laughed about it and said that his wife is going to love it because that’s how she says his name when she’s peeved at him.

Darren Helm is the proud new owner of an Oh, the Helmanity t-shirt.

I had three Curly Fries t-shirts — for the three guys that have gotten us free Arby’s following Operation: Curly Fries. Nick Lidstrom was (SHOCKINGLY) very gracious and gave the idea a bit of a chuckle. I’m not entirely certain Johan Franzen knew what I was talking about as I explained that he had gotten Red Wings fans free curly fries for his massive five-goal performance (because, let’s be honest, if the guys aren’t aware of such things — and it seems like they’re not — it sounds like complete nonsense). Patrick Eaves was legitimately psyched about having a Curly Fries shirt and I hope, like that fan on Saturday morning, that he’s around for a long time. He was one of the more engaging guys on the plane and I enjoyed having a minute to chat with him.

And then I came to Todd Bertuzzi’s row. I had a 2XL Shirtuzzi in my hand, but I was still a little uneasy about what his reaction to a shirt bearing his scowling face might be. When I handed it to him, he unfolded it and half-smirked (I’d be told later that this was a huge victory) and the rest of the players wanted him to show it off. He spun it around and held it up to his chest for the rest of the guys to see, and everyone had a good laugh about it. Mr. Bertuzzi genuinely thanked me, extended his hand for a shake, and promised me he’d wear it in the locker room. I told him I hoped so and that I’d keep an eye on FSD pre-games to see if he does.

After all was said and done, I had the playing roster’s signature on an H2H2 shirt (and if you haven’t seen it, check it out below) that will be available as a prize for the Children’s Hospital Fundraiser. The team was honored to be a part of that and are very proud that their fans are involved in community events like this. Good on you, Hockeytown.

LANDING
As we approached Detroit, everyone was exhausted. It was about 1 in the morning (locally) and here was a plane full of people that had been going non-stop (some, obviously, more strenuously than others) for 48 hours and the promise of one’s own bed seemed to be keeping some of them going. I started to wonder how thrilled the team must be to have to clear the snow off of their cars and still travel a half hour or an hour to their homes.

But, in true rockstar fashion, they wouldn’t have to worry about that first part. After we landed, the plane taxied all the way into a private hangar… where their cars were waiting for them, warm, dry (for the most part), and ready to carry them home. I’m sure it’s obvious by now that these guys know how to live, but that was pretty darn neat to see.

Of course, not every player was comfortable handing their keys over, and a handful of guys walked with us through the building and out to the parking lot. As my dad and I begun to pull out of the lot, I noticed Valtteri Filppula clearing snow off of the back windshield. I say, “do you think we should give him a hand?” but as soon as we pull around near him, he gives a “eh, to hell with it” kind of face and jumps in the driver’s seat.

ONE MORE TIME
On the off-chance that some of them have been reading this series, I want to say it one more time: an incredible thank you to General Manager Ken Holland, Media Relations Manager Todd Beam, Executive Assistant Kathi Wyatt, various members of the Fox Sports family, the Detroit Red Wings players, coaches, personnel, and staff. You gave us an incredible weekend, and know how to run a team full of genuinely wonderful human beings. My dad and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to escort you for a few days.

I just hope we aren’t blacklisted because of the outcomes of the games…

Part IV :: One More Loss and One More Bus

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.

BRIDGESTONE ARENA
We packed up our hotel room and headed down toward the elevators. We were instructed to load our luggage onto the bus so that we could hightail it out of there as soon as the game ended.

The elevator doors open and we hop in, joined by Valtteri Filppula. I mention that we had Ilari on TP:60 and that he was talking shit about little brother…and told me who he thought would win in an arm wrestling match.

“Oh yeah, what’d he say?”

“What do you think he said?”

“He thinks he’s funny.”

The Wings hooked us up with great seats for the Preds game, about twelve rows up in the end where Detroit shot twice. Something I should get off my chest right away: that arena is gorgeous. The city’s pretty awesome, and there’s no doubt they love their Predators. But, like we always see on TV, the arena — and downtown — was dominated by Red Wings fans. Easily 60/40 in red and white, if not more.

The Predators fans may still be learning the ins and outs of the game, but there’s no doubt at all that they love their squad. They had prepared chants, like a European soccer game, and were respectful of fans of the opposite team: something that I can’t say about every arena I’ve visited.

During the first intermission, they had a mini-concert while the Zamboni swept the ice, which is a brilliant idea. Every minute that you’re in Bridgestone Arena, you’re being entertained — another thing other rinks could learn. I’m sure more than a few Detroiters were irked by Alice Cooper (along with Vince Gill) performing in Nashville. They presented him with a Preds jersey after he sang a few tunes, but he didn’t put it on. If you’re asking my opinion (and I know you’re not), I bet the Predators planned to have a Michigander perform AGAINST the Red Wings…and the performer simply didn’t check out the schedule.

BACK TO BACK HEARTBREAKERS
Unlike the Blue Jackets game, it looked like the Red Wings game to play. There was more jump in their step, they were utilizing the drills that Coach Bedard put (a few of) them through in the morning, and they seemed to genuine want to score a goal this time around. But just like the night before, they failed to get anything by a hot netminder. Speaking of which, Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback are both huge. Like… monster huge. We always hear about that, but I’m not sure I appreciated how large they are until I saw them skating in warmups with their teammates next to them.

Once again, I found myself hoping that they could get just one so that they weren’t miserable on the flight back to Detroit. They hadn’t been in the most chipper of moods, and I was looking forward to at least bullshitting with a few of them if they were up for it.

The game ended, another 3-0 loss, and we took our little credentials and headed down the elevator to “event level” and we were directed toward security one more time. Just like in Detroit, Ken Daniels helped out with the wand, as the team completes security screening (and customs, if necessary) before even getting on the bus to head to the private airfields.

The first player out of the locker room to join us by the bus is Jan Mursak, walking with a severe limp and with only one shoe on. We know now that he took a Shea Weber shot off of the toe, and he didn’t look too thrilled about it, obviously in a lot of pain.

Slowly, the team crept onto the bus — once again avoiding eye contact with Coach Babcock. Mr. Holland didn’t look too pleased, either, and why would he be?

Just like the last bus trip, Val Filppula grabs the seat in front of me. Jimmy Howard right behind. Patrick Eaves to my left. Also just like the last bus trip, not too much was said.

The team started wondering what the weather was like back home, and if there was any more snow. Howard says that “Ozzie said we got 8 inches” referring to a text message weather update, which — let’s be honest — is pretty adorable. No one seems eager to return to the weather waiting for them, but you can tell they’re slightly horrified at the idea that our flight might be delayed or canceled. They want no part of staying another night — it’s pretty clear they want to get home, to their own beds, and many of them to families, and just forget this weekend happened and start fresh on Monday.

The bus pulled up to Red Bird I on the runway, and we started to shuffle out. This would be my last hour or so with the team, and I figured if I worked up the nerve to hand Todd a Shirtuzzi… maybe I could salvage a smile out of this group before the weekend ended…

Part III :: Breakfast, Bedard, and Bucatini

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.

BREAKFAST WITH MR. HOLLAND
I was lucky enough to spend nearly two hours with Mr. Holland. We talked about quite a bit: that he nearly became a vacuum salesman, how his son is doing (I went to high school with him), and — obviously — hockey. Any question I had for him — be it about the CBA or individual prospects or working in hockey — he answered honestly, frankly, and brilliantly. It was — by far — the highlight of the weekend.

When asked if he can spot a superstar, he answered, “unless it’s Crosby, not really” and he explained that Johan Franzen went through five drafts before finally being selected by the Wings.

I asked if the players have any idea about the things that are written about them (clearly looking out for my own ass before I had the chance to cross paths with Bertuzzi). His answer was kind of what I suspected… that the players don’t read too much media coverage, and if they do, they put very little stock in it.

I told him about being impressed with Riley Sheahan when I had the opportunity to interview him at the Draft. It sounds like the organization likes him, too, and he explained pretty clearly what Jiri Fischer’s role is with the team.

In a somewhat tangential story arc, you can thank ex-Wing Mark Mowers for the team’s “capologist” (though Mr. Holland is quick to point out that HE’S the capologist, with a smirk). Mowers’ agent’s assistant was Ryan Martin — whom Holland had met prior to the negotiations. Mr. Martin knows the CBA backwards and forwards and reads the legal document the way that you and I read a magazine in the john.

Perhaps most importantly, he explained his hockey philosophy to me, explaining how his career in the AHL helped shaped how he approaches building the best franchise on the planet. Surrounding yourself with successful veterans and earning your way onto a club makes it so that the players are emotionally invested in the team. It’s basically exactly what we’ve known for years, just spoken in a way that’s so simple and frank, it sounded like gospel coming from him.

His recall of players’ stats from years past is startling. I mentioned being impressed with Jiri Hudler when Scuttles played with the Griffins however-many years ago. Mr. Holland (accurately — I looked it up) said “that was the year he had 96 points and was third in the AHL in scoring.”

No point was more poignant than hearing him discuss playing ahead of a young man that The Hockey News considered to be a “goaltender of the future.” His advice to the youngster was “why don’t you worry about being better than me first?”

Brilliant advice for all of us. And even moreso for the players hoping to earn their way onto the Detroit Red Wings.

Like I mentioned on Day 1, there are some things I’d prefer to keep to myself. The conversation was fun, honest, and eye-opening, but some of it was meant just for the table and I’d like to keep it that way. If I was put on a plane back to Detroit immediately following breakfast, I would have been just fine with the weekend. There’s simply no way the trip could be a disappointment even though we weren’t even halfway done yet.

MORNING SKATE
As our conversation was coming to an end, Mr. Holland asked if we intended to check out the morning skate across the street at Bridgestone Arena. Obviously, I hoped to do as much as I could, and asked if he knew where we were supposed to enter the building.

“Just walk over with me.”

Yeah, tough sell. We went in the players’ entrance — but not before Mr. Holland was asked by an autograph-seeker if he should invest in a Patrick Eaves jersey, hoping to hear Eaves will be signed long-term. Shockingly, Mr. Holland didn’t show his cards. We asked him how fans know where they’re staying and when the skate is.

“They know everything always.”

I saw a handful of Red Wings in the underbelly of the arena, taping sticks or being worked on by the trainer. Some of guys (and no, I won’t tell you which ones they were) that haven’t been involved in the injury story had ice packs or heat bands, proving that no one in the League is 100% in February.

Ultimately, only a handful of players skated that day. Jan Mursak, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, and Jakub Kindl ran a few drills with Joey MacDonald taking the bulk of the shots (he was to start that evening) and Jimmy “Fuckin'” Howard providing a breather or two.

Goaltending coach Jim Bedard was the lone coach on the ice with the six Red Wings, and he didn’t take it easy on them. The drills they ran were pretty intense, and did as much good for the shooters as it did for the goalies. Proving exactly why the Red Wings brought him back into the organization this past summer, Joey MacDonald took these drills extremely seriously and was nothing if not a veteran pro.

When all was said and done, the Wings were only on the ice for about 25 minutes before changing and heading back to the hotel for a pre-game meal and a nap.

CARBO LOADING
We bumped into Coach Bedard as we headed over to the meal, and rode the elevator up with him. If Mr. Holland was the most fun I had talking to anyone all weekend, Bedard was a close second. Hilarious dude. When I mentioned that he didn’t take it easy on the boys at the skate, he smiled and shot me a look that confirmed I may not have had the will to play in this League even if I had the skill (which I also didn’t possess).

We walked into the private dining area and most of the players were already seated and digging into a fairly extensive spread of pastas, chicken breasts, salads, and soups. As I grabbed a plate to help myself, I notice Darren Helm getting in line behind me. I tell him he’s gotta go ahead, it’s far more important that he’s fed than I am. For the record, I’ve never seen anyone eat half as much pasta and this kid did. It was literally a three inch stack the whole circumference of the dish.

After loading up with mashed potatoes and chicken, we found a few empty seats at a table occupied by Jakub Kindl, Justin Abdelkader, and Joey MacDonald. Just like the plane, I didn’t want to bug anyone — not to mention, they might be getting into the mindset necessary to play hockey in a few hours. But it didn’t take long for Kindl to pipe up — asking us where we were from and telling us about his family and friends back in the Czech Republic.

Former Islander Joey MacDonald perked up when I mentioned that I lived in New York and tried to get to Wings games when they play at Madison Square Garden or even in Newark, but that “you wouldn’t catch me dead at the shithole in Nassau.” Joey MacDonald seemed to be, in the little time I spent with everyone, the most “regular dude” of the bunch.

But that’s just the thing… they’re just “regular dudes.” I’m sure they’d like you to know that they talk about regular guy stuff — movies they’d seen recently, new car models they like, the upcoming Super Bowl. We may think they’re demi-gods, but at the end of the day, they’re just people. And they’re no different than any of us, and it was very neat to shoot the breeze and not have to act like I was conducting an interview with them.

As the players streamed out to get their rest, Justin Abdelkader still had several pounds of pasta and three chicken breasts to work with, so my dad and I stuck around to keep him company. I asked what it was like to live every Michigan kid’s dream, playing an entire career (save for one season in Cedar Rapids) in his homestate. He absolutely appreciates how special that is, and says his folks try to get to games on the weekends, but it’s tough during the week since they’re both working. But he realizes his situation is special: friends from college can come see him, and his family can make it if the circumstances are right. There are players on the team who don’t get to play in front of some close to them all season. It’s fair to say that Justin Abdelkader is the most likely Red Wing to have a friend or relative in the Joe every night.

One thing that startled me was how quiet and reserved the guys are. They didn’t talk a whole lot — even to each other — but that could have more to do with having a less-than-awesome weekend than anything else. Still, I expected someone to be a bit of a goofball, but everyone was in Business Mode and that was pretty awesome to see.

Everyone except Coach Babcock, of course. As he was walking out of the room, he patted me on the back and told me to “make sure I get seconds.” I told him I’d load up in case he needed another body that night.

It was about 1:30 in the afternoon. In three short hours, the team was heading to the rink.

Part II :: Airplanes and Awesomesauce

Read Part I here.

ALL ABOARD
We climbed the stairs of Red Bird I, knowing we had beaten almost all of the team (hold for Rafalski and Bertuzzi), but when we were being shown to our seats, I noticed that most of the personnel — coaches, management, trainers — were already on board.

The first person I see is Mr. Holland — he’s seated in the first row on the left side of the plane. As soon as I duck in through the door, he stands up, extends his hand and says, “Hello. I’m Ken.”

Knowing what I know about him now, this isn’t surprising in the least. He’s one of the most friendly human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with, but to hear someone who’s so revered and respected introduce himself so casually was pretty neat. I shook his hand and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Holland.” I’m not sure I’d ever be able to bring myself to call him “Ken.”

On board, I see that most of the plane is divided into tables of four. Two sides of a table face one another in big, comfy, leather seats — with a large wooden table between them. On the table waiting for us (and everyone else) is a spread of cold cuts and cheeses. I’m sure the players are famished after three hours of hockey.

As I was still trying to process what had just happened with Mr. Holland, I realize that I’m sitting in an area with all of the media folks — Mickey Redmond, Paul Woods, Ken Kal, John Keating… Daniels was still screening players — and the coaching staff. Paul MacLean wasted no time to start dissecting game film. His laptop had been loaded with footage and as I sat down, he pressed play on the opening faceoff. Pretty wild.

Slowly but surely, the players started to stream onto the plane — most of them giving us a head nod or a little hello, very few of them making eye contact with Coach Babcock. I start going through the roster in my head, crossing off guys I’ve seen enter, trying to keep the lineup straight in my noggin.

Niklas Kronwall was wearing his Potter glasses. Jiri Hudler really is noticeably shorter than most of the other guys. Jonathan Ericsson is a goddamn beast. Nick Lidstrom has a halo. Val Filppula liked the tie/vest combination I decided to wear after changing my mind fourteen times.

Once Jan Mursak walked by, I figured we might not see Pavel Datsyuk on this trip after all.

PRIVATE JETS ARE THE WAY TO GO
The service aboard the plane is unreal. We were asked — no joke — five or six times if we’d like anything to eat. They had several choices of meals, and I assume that the guys all have their “flight meals” that they swear by. Anything you could possibly ask for — they probably had on the plane. The overhead compartments? Stuffed with chips and gum and cookies and whatnot.

I’m so used to taxiing on the runway for three goddamn hours that I was startled to find we took off about nine seconds after the door closed. They didn’t harass me for not having my seatbelt on. No one mentioned the window shade being down (I knew that wasn’t the reason planes stayed in the air), and before I even realized, my phone was sending and receiving e-mails. Interferes with the instruments, my ass. I didn’t lose service until somewhere over Ohio (of course that’s where it would be).

As soon as we were airborne, Mickey Redmond wandered back to our table and hung out for a few minutes, lamenting the night’s effort but confident the next night would be better. You can tell these guys work hard doing what they do, because Mr. Redmond and Mr. Daniels both looked like they could fall asleep within thirty seconds if challenged. Nevertheless, it was awesome to chat with #20 for a few minutes and my dad couldn’t help himself but to tell him I’m part of the triumvirate of masterminds behind Operation: Curly Fries. Mr. Redmond’s reaction? “They always find a way to make a good thing go bad.” Clearly, this man is  pro-fries.

I decided that this leg of the journey probably isn’t the best to go mingle with the players. They weren’t making much noise back there (although, it was midnight by now) and I figured they’d rather be alone with their thoughts and iPads than shoot the breeze until we landed.

When we did arrive in Nashville, we walked down onto the runway to find that Mickey Redmond was pulling his weight in the way that Ken Daniels had through security screening. Redmond was on the baggage conveyor belt, getting everyone’s bags off of the plane faster than the three actual baggage handlers could dream. One of them tried to get his hands in there to help, but Mickey was moving so quickly, he was better off letting the pro do his thing.

DEAD SILENCE ON THE BUS
We got our bag and headed to the charter bus, which had pulled up to where the plane landed. Baller.

Heading to the hotel, it was completely silent. I kind of figured it would be — considering the plane was pretty reserved, and it had only gotten later. I sat directly behind Valtteri Filppula and his non-Red Wings Lacoste bag. Most of the other guys had black duffel bags with the winged wheel adorning it, but we all know Val rolls in luxury.

As fans, we expect the players to be affected by a loss. And we usually demand perfection from them. But, having played the game for a handful of years, I can say that they’re all still human beings and though I’m sure they don’t like losing, they let it roll off of their backs. And they would. But not tonight. Tonight, they were silent.

Okay, not completely silent.

One player (who will remain unnamed), as we meandered our way through Nashville, looked out the window and joked “neon lights and trucks? You know what that means.”

It means strip club.

A handful of guys chuckled, but believe me when I tell you that zero of these guys had any intention of focusing on anything but hockey. I’m not sure you could convince me they go out and party ever given how reserved and dialed in they were all weekend. But it was a humorous attempt to break the tension a bit and pretty soon we were arriving at the hotel, ready to crash before getting up a few hours later and starting all over.

TEAM HOTEL
We checked into the hotel around 1-ish Central. I was having a hell of a time keeping my eyes open and I didn’t burn 4,000 calories playing hockey that night, so I can’t imagine how painfully exhausted the Red Wings were. In fact, traveling with them for only 48 hours really opened my eyes to what kind of lives they lead. Sure, they have beautiful hotels and beautiful planes and meals are coordinated for them… but they literally don’t stop. We didn’t get settled in until after 1. And they had morning skate at 11.

And they have to do this 41 times a year. Minimum.

Walking into the hotel, we’re greeted by half of the staff (including the manager who welcomed my dad and me back…which is kinda awesome). Just inside the door are two tables: one that says “PLAYERS” and another for “STAFF.” All of the players have envelopes with their names on them — inside is a key to their room. Find your name, find your room, and get to bed.

Pavel Datsyuk’s envelope is left on the table when all the others had been removed. Hint #2 that he wasn’t around this weekend. But, seeing as how the local papers still had him listed in the lineup for Saturday’s game, I thought I’d take the opportunity to break my first “scoop” of the weekend.

We’re just about to head to our room on the 7th floor — the team was spread out all over — Mr. Holland stops us and says, “Breakfast at 9am?”