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At 23, Red Wings' Meech boasts mature approach

by Dan Rosen

Red Wings' rookie defenseman Derek Meech
was a 7th round pick in the 2002 NHL Draft, and has appeared in 26 games this season.
Derek Meech video highlights
Derek Meech would rather be guaranteed at least 10 minutes a night on Detroit's blue line than wonder if he's going to dress at all when he arrives at the rink.

Then again, who wouldn't?

The uncertainty can wear on a player by draining his attitude or sapping his personality. But the Red Wings' rookie defenseman won't let it bother him. Meech was 11-years-old when he gained perspective on life and hockey, and odds are he'll never lose it.

"It's something that kind of forces you to grow up a little more than you're ready for at the time," Meech said when asked about his mother, Linda, who lost her battle with cancer when he was only a little guy learning to skate in rinks in and around Winnipeg.

"It's one of those diseases that I think touches everybody's life," Meech continued. "It forced me to mature a little faster than a regular 11-year-old would have."

Twelve years later, Meech, who said he thinks about his mother every day, understands the way he handled his grief back then has turned him into the mature person and professional he is today.

As a result, he's too strong to let a coach's decision affect his personality.

"You think of all the obstacles a hockey player goes through in his career, be it being sent down or going through bumps and bruises along the way, then look at that obstacle for me and all these other things seem miniscule," said Meech, a seventh-round draft pick in 2002. "I am able to deal with things and not panic as much as other people might because I have perspective."

Meech also has a pretty good idea of where he stands on the Red Wings; defensive depth chart. When recent injuries sidelined Detroit's top four -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Chris Chelios -- Meech knew this was finally his chance to show coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland what he could do.

He spent the last three seasons with Grand Rapids of the AHL, and played in only 10 of the Red Wings' first 51 games after surviving the final cuts coming out of training camp. This was his first real opportunity to impress the Red Wings' top brass.

"It seemed like guys were dropping like flies and it was my opportunity," Meech said. "I had to get in there to show them how I could play so they could trust me and put me out when they need me."

Meech was so good that he might even find himself as one of the top seven defensemen on the Red Wings' playoff roster despite a glut of blue liners all competing for spots at the end of the depth chart.

When the playoffs begin Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Chelios, and Brad Stuart should be locks unless the injury bug bites again. Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda would appear to be fighting for the No. 6 spot, but Meech has forced his name into the discussion.

Beginning Jan. 30, Meech played in 16-straight games, averaging more than 15 minutes a night, before he was a healthy scratch for this past Wednesday's 4-1 win over St. Louis.

He played 20 minutes or more in four straight games in late February, including a season-high 27:19 at Edmonton on Feb. 26 when he also registered a season-high eight shots on goal. He would have scored his first NHL goal three nights earlier in Vancouver, but it was called back.

"I was starting to get more ice time as the games went on," Meech said. "My confidence level was high. It's a lot easier when you're getting minutes like that and you don't have to think, you just react to plays."

Meech hardly has it all figured out, which is why he feels lucky to be in his situation in Detroit where he can use a slew of veteran and perhaps future Hall of Fame defensemen as resources. Is there a better place for a young and eager defenseman to learn?

"Obviously on a team like this with guys like Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski, you have all these Hall of Fame defensemen who have been around a long time," Meech said. "They have all been really supportive with me. It's been a good situation. These guys are the best. It's great to learn them."

But now that they're all returning from their various bumps and bruises, plus the Red Wings also added Stuart at the deadline, – Meech knows his ice time will be cut considerably, if he dresses at all down the stretch.

He's prepared, though, because he has perspective.

"When you're scratched you try to think of what you can be doing better, but if you look at the 'D' we have it's a tough decision for the coaches to make," Meech said. "My job is to keep trying to make it tougher for them."

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