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Babcock: Use Detroit's people as an inspiration

Friday, 12.11.2009 / 5:00 PM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - Sr. Editorial Director

Mike Babcock has one word for his Detroit Red Wings these days -- Battle.

Like a lot of teams around the NHL, the Wings have been beset by a staggering number of injuries. But to Babcock, that's not an excuse. A factor? Perhaps. But in the coach's mind, the Red Wings need to take a look around their community and follow suit.

"Being frustrated is just an absolute waste of time," Babcock told reporters. "It's about being positive, digging in and staying within the structure. It's all part of life. Times are tough here in Detroit for people. Are they giving in or are they battling? We have to do the same thing -- battle."

Veteran Kirk Maltby admitted to being surprised by the long injury list, but again, no excuses.

"To have as many significant injuries as we have -- I don't think I've ever seen this on any team I've played on or any team I know about," Maltby told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "It's up to the guys that are in the lineup to get the job done. There are no excuses; there never has been."

"We just have to keep getting the group to play hard, play for one another and believe in the structure, because the structure will protect you when people aren't available," Babcock said.

Kids are all right -- Perhaps the Red Wings can look to the New Jersey Devils for inspiration. The Devils also have been beset by a lengthy list of injuries to key players like David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Rob Niedermayer, Dainius Zubrus, Jay Pandolfo, Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya and remained one of the NHL's top teams.

"I was surprised," coach Jacques Lemaire told Rich Chere of the Newark Star-Ledger about the Devils' young players. "I was surprised to see them at camp. One of the first things I said to Lou (Lamoriello) was, 'You have good kids in the organization.' And they have more that are not here right now and in a couple of years they will be here."

Lemaire views the contributions of players like Niclas Bergfors, Mark Fraser, Matt Halischuk, Matt Corrente, Vladimir Zharkov, Tim Sestito and Tyler Eckford as vital in New Jersey's success this season.

"Where would we be without the kids?" Lemaire asked. "In trouble. Big trouble. Especially with the injuries. If you try to fill in with players that are not ready to play, you just can't win. Let's face it. We're surprised with all the wins we've got with the kids. I know there were a lot of close games, but we found a way to win."

Worth reading -- As has been said a million time, some of the NHL's toughest players are among the best guys you'll ever meet. Be sure to check out this story from Curtis Zupke of the Orange County Register on the Anaheim Ducks' George Parros.

A much more sobering story come from Hall of Famer Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette on the struggles former NHLer Chris Nilan has had with drugs and alcohol.

Embracing Montreal -- No one ever has questioned the fan fervor in Montreal, but sometimes the all-consuming devotion of the people to everything Hab can be overwhelming to players.

Not Mike Cammalleri, however. The offseason, free-agent addition, has jumped into the atmosphere with both skates.

"People throw out the word religion when they talk about hockey in Montreal. It matters so much," Cammalleri told reporters. "It's a pretty cool experience.

"You want to have one chance in your career to play in a place so special. If you ever wanted to get fully engaged, this is the place to do it," he said.

Defenseman Hal Gill, a Massachusetts native, also has found playing in Montreal to be an eye-opening experience.

"It's kind of going against everything I ever believed growing up," he said. "Especially this year, seeing all the history. It's been pretty awesome being around this. But being from Boston, I feel like a traitor a little bit. But I'm getting comfortable with it."

Flyers on the move -- It may not sound like much, but one of the first moves Peter Laviolette made since taking over as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers is to move the team's game-day skates back to the team's training facility in Voorhees, N.J., away from prying eyes at the Wachovia Center.

Laviolette's rationale is he wants to work on sundry parts of the Flyers' game without personnel from the visiting team around to watch.

Laviolette did not poll the players on this decision, despite having a good number of players who live in the city.

"It wasn't up for discussion," Laviolette said.

"We spend so much time there that it feels like home when we go to Voorhees," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen, one player who likes moving back to the SkateZone.

Well Said I -- "Every time so far this year when I think we're getting on a roll and we're getting traction, we sort of find a way to piss me off again. So it's what we're faced with right now. Talk is fine, but we need actions. They're a strong group, we believe in them and we have to let their actions speak for themselves with their play on the ice."

-- Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is a wee bit frustrated with his group.

Teemu mending -- Good news for the Anaheim Ducks as Teemu Selanne reports the surgery to fix a broken bone above the middle finger on his left hand went well. Selanne said he expects to return ahead of the mid-January date he was given for being back on the ice.

"I'm optimistic," said Selanne, who was injured on Dec. 3 in Dallas while blocking a shot. "I know I can make it back in four weeks. That's what I'm looking at."

Winning plan -- Tuukka Rask was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2005. He didn't make his NHL debut until the 2007-08 season with the Bruins. Coach Claude Julien says getting two seasons of seasoning with the AHL's Providence Bruins has been a big factor in his success -- 9-2-2 record heading into play weekend play -- this season.

"He's paid his dues," Julien told reporters. "He's been in the minors for a few years and he's been itching to get up here.

"I thought our upper management did a great job of keeping him in the minors for the right reasons. He was the No. 1 and got a lot of games under his belt. Now he gets an opportunity to come up here. Every time you give him an opportunity to play, he's responded well and played well for us.

"He's very calm," Julien said. "I think he's getting good results because what I see as the biggest difference in Tuukka from his first year to now is how he is in practice. His work ethic in practice is so much better. He's starting to get rewarded in games for that."

Well Said II -- "Patience is the No. 1 thing on our list. We don't go out there and lay down a thousand gallons of water and go get a coffee. The guys will be out there on the hoses for 16 hours . . . fine sprays for 16 hours on a given day."

-- NHL ice guru Dan Craig on building the ice at Fenway Park for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Sabres' minuteman -- Defense is a tough position for a rookie to learn, so the play of 19-year-old Tyler Myers with the Buffalo Sabres this season has been a great story.

And Myers isn't just playing a few hand-picked minutes here and there. His play has been so good that coach Lindy Ruff has given him plenty of time, well over 20 minutes a game.

Myers has thrived, in part, because he is used to a big workload from his days with the Kelowna Rockets of the Wester Hockey League.

"Last year I learned how to handle that kind of minutes," Myers told the Buffalo News. "There's different ways to play. You can conserve energy and still be effective on the ice. I've just been trying to do that when I feel a little fatigued or a little tired out there.

"The intensity's a lot higher here, so it's tougher. But I'm getting used to it."

Needs to be said again -- Undoubtedly you read this last week, but it bears repeating simply because it reinforces the idea that hockey players are not you average athletes.

Tuesday morning, Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt was hit by a SUV while going out for coffee in Philadelphia on the day of a game against the Flyers.

Witt jumped on the hood of the truck to avoid most of the impact, and then fell to the pavement. He got right up, assured passersby that he was OK and went off to get his coffee, noting he had a game to play that night.

"He's a hockey player," teammate John Tavares said.

No doubt.

Mason grateful to Hitchcock -- Perhaps it's the sophomore jinx, but for many reasons, players in their second seasons often struggle. Add Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason to the list.

Through 24 games, Mason is 10-8-5 with a 3.29 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. Last season, his GAA was 2.29 and his save percentage .916.

But coach Ken Hitchcock has stuck by his 21-year-old goalie.

"I've had a couple meetings with Hitch and he's stuck behind me 100 percent," Mason told Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch. "I'm a young guy and things aren't going my way, but Hitch has always been in my corner and that has been huge. I can't thank him enough."

Hitchcock hasn't gone easy on Mason, critiquing his play honestly, but he has kept him on the ice as well.

"This season, there has been some stuff that has been thrown my way that I haven't been prepared for," Mason said. "In the long run, I think it will make me a better player and a better person.

"There are times you question yourself a little, but the guys have stuck behind me and the coaches and the fans have been behind me."

"There have been ups and downs, but the big thing when you come into the League is there is a lot of learning to do, and I have a lot more to do."
-- Luke Schenn

Tough time for Schenn, too -- Sophomore season hasn't been kind to Toronto's Luke Schenn, either.

Schenn, 20, the fifth pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, is learning that defense is a tough position to learn at the NHL level.

"There have been ups and downs, but the big thing when you come into the League is there is a lot of learning to do, and I have a lot more to do," Schenn told Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun. "Overall, I think it has gone well. Hopefully, the upside continues to grow. Having just turned 20 (on Nov. 2) and to be playing in my 100th game, it is special. I'm lucky."

Twelve defensemen were selected in the first round of the '08 draft, but only the Kings' Drew Doughty has played in more games that Schenn. As with Mason in Columbus, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson has stuck by Schenn.

"I think he is doing the kind of things I expected from a second-year defenseman," Wilson said. "He is up and down. I am not looking for getting top-four minutes because we have more vets deserving of that ice time.

"That seems to be a tough pill for everybody to swallow, that he is not getting top-two minutes, but he is not good enough to get those minutes. Luke will, eventually, take on a bigger role on our defense."

Well Said III -- "It's a long season ... we've still just got to fall back on the perseverance of knowing that, if we stick with the game plan, eventually good things are going to happen. But we need guys to step up. Our third- and fourth-line guys have played very, very well. We need our top-end guys to just take it to the next level."

-- Ottawa Senators coach Cory Clouston

A vote for Miller -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman said if he was starting a team from scratch, his first pick would be former teammate Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres.

"A few years ago there was a poll question, who you'd start your team with. I like Ryan," Campbell told reporters. "I think he's a great goaltender and if you know how he is off the ice, how he studies the game and studies shooters. He puts in a lot of time and effort into being the best.

"He's acrobatic, but he's in position at all times."

Welcome aboard -- One of the nice touches of working for the NHL is when a new employee comes aboard, the staff receives an email introducing the new employee and providing a brief bio in addition to contact info.

Needless to say, I haven't seen a welcoming bio like the one that came across the laptop earlier in the week.

"Please welcome Brendan Shanahan to the National Hockey League. Brendan joins the Business and Media Department.

Brendan recently ended his 21-year NHL playing career as the League's 11th-leading goal scorer with 656.  He played on three Stanley Cup championship teams with the Detroit Red Wings and won an Olympic Gold Medal with Canada in 2002.  He also served as an original member of the NHL Competition Committee."

Note to self, continue to keep head up when walking in hallways.

Well Said IV -- "The bottom line is there's nothing I can say to a player that creates the kind of urgency in a player that sitting out does. Everybody wants a chance to display their talent. So that's ice time. In order to get that, you gotta compete hard enough and work hard enough to get that opportunity. When that's taken away from you, usually reality sets in in a big way."

-- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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