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Wings 'grind'-ing way to another successful season

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 11:17 AM / NHL Insider

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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Wings 'grind'-ing way to another successful season
The reason the Red Wings have been so successful? It's nothing fancy -- just relentless, unending hard work -- or as they call it, "the grind."

DETROIT -- It went virtually unnoticed, just as it does after every game at Joe Louis Arena.

Not far from where a contingent of media and others milled about in a victorious home locker room, a number of Detroit Red Wings grinded through tough, post-game workouts. If you'd just walked in without seeing the game they'd just won or knowing its historical significance, you probably would have thought it was just like any other victory for Red Wings -- winners of four Stanley Cups in the past 15 years.

It wasn't.

This time, they'd beaten the Dallas Stars to set an NHL record with 21 straight home victories in one season. The previous high of 20 games, which the Wings had tied two days prior, had been set by the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and matched only by 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers.

Now it's a record owned solely by the Red Wings, but you wouldn't have determined that merely by watching them in the locker room after Tuesday's win. After a few hugs, high-fives and a salute to the fans on the ice, the Wings did what they always do after games, win or lose.

"You always see guys working out, before or after practice and sometimes after games. That's just part of what we do. It's the approach we've had for a long period of time, not just this season but going back to the 1990s." -- Nicklas Lidstrom

It's part of what's become known around here as "the grind."

Star center Pavel Datsyuk latched his hands onto a pull-up bar and cranked out 10 good ones. Drew Miller and Cory Emmerton grunted through reps on the bench press, while other Wings did various strength and conditioning exercises.

"Throughout this whole streak, we've been more concerned about getting two points and affecting our place in the standings than we were about breaking a record," said 41-year old Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who remains one of hardest off-ice workers. "Until the last few games, we weren't really thinking about the record or talking about it -- except with (the media). We were just getting ready to play the next game. And after talking (to the media), part of that is working out after games."

Sound a little boring?

Well, that's because it is. However, it's also a big reason this franchise was able to transform itself from a League cellar-dweller three decades ago into one of the best dynasties in all of professional sports now -- qualifying for the postseason for 20 straight seasons and counting.

They pride themselves on "the grind" here -- and the whole tedious process of winning. Sure, there's been luck involved in this streak, too. Without some fortunate bounces or calls here and there, none of the attention that's been pointed at the Red Wings of late would have happened.

And yet, even if it hadn't, they still would be doing what they always do -- winning more than they lose and putting in the work required to get that done, on and off the ice. It’s at the heart of this team's culture now, passed along like a family heirloom from generation to generation of Wings players.

Lidstrom, for instance, joined the Red Wings as a rookie in 1991 after coming over from Sweden -- back when intensely-driven former Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman was instilling this kind of work ethic by his own example.


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Lidstrom, who inherited the captaincy after Yzerman retired, is doing the same now for this iteration of the Red Wings.

"You always see guys working out, before or after practice and sometimes after games," he said Thursday, a day before the Wings try to make it 22 straight home wins when the Nashville Predators visit Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m., NHLN-US). "That's just part of what we do. It's the approach we've had for a long period of time, not just this season but going back to the 1990s. It's not just the main guys getting a lot of minutes or points (working hard), either. It's everybody trying to get better and set a good example for young the guys who are just coming into it."

That, in essence, is how dynasties like this are built. It takes great scouting and player development, not to mention great coaching and talent, but relentless work ethic makes everything go. The Wings didn't spend time talking about the home winning streak while stringing it together merely because they were too busy focusing on the tasks at hand necessary to keep it going.

"We just do what we always do, prepare for the game and try to focus on doing good things," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the record-breaking 21st straight home victory. "That's what we've done all along. That's what we'll do (in the future)."

Babcock recently raised some eyebrows with a comment about this team. He pointed out just how mind-numbingly predictable the Wings have been, especially at home, and said before the season started he didn't know exactly what to expect.

"I feel since (2009) this has been our best effort, and yet the two previous years we've had good teams, too," he said. "The reason I feel … we didn't finish in the playoffs the way we would have liked … because in the end that's the measure. You’ve got to get into the playoffs, and coming into this year I wasn't sure if we were getting into the playoffs or scratching and clawing to get into the playoffs. I wasn't sure just looking at our group."

He's sure about them now, with the Red Wings perched on top of the League standings and the stretch run of the regular season ahead -- filled with a preponderance of home games left.

"This group has surpassed what I thought we were, and now we reset (the) bar and keep pushing to be better," Babcock said. "I think this has been one of the most consistent teams I've ever coached, as far as bringing an effort each and every day."

Win or lose. Home or road.

It might be a little boring to watch, as they crank out reps in the weight room or grind through practices during the "dog days" of February, but it's also the biggest reason Wings fans haven't witnessed a loss in Detroit in three and a half months.

While they celebrate this jaw-dropping string of success on home ice and the media reports about it, the Wings are most concerned about the next one. That's why Datsyuk was doing those pull-ups the other night, largely unnoticed and completely business-like.

Not long after he was finished, Lidstrom headed toward the weight room, too. After completing a marathon interview session with reporters at his locker stall, trying to put the big win into some kind of historical perspective, he had his own postgame routine to finish.

"I think you have some pull-ups left to do," a reporter quipped, as Lidstrom walked toward the weight room. "Twenty-one of them, to be exact."

Lidstrom laughed. He paused for second to think of a good comeback and replied: "No … 22."

Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential