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Banner day ahead

by Brian Compton
DETROIT — Back to work.

That was the echoing sentiment in the Detroit Red Wings' locker room at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday morning as the defending Stanley Cup champions made final preparations for their 2008-09 season debut on Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While everyone is looking forward to that unforgettable feeling of watching the championship banner get raised to the rafters, the veteran players fully understand that once the puck drops, it's back to business.

"We have to be ready to play," said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy and four-time Stanley Cup winner. "We're very excited about what’s going to happen, but we know there's a game we have to play. It's a brand new season, and we're starting from scratch. That’s the mindset we have."

Obviously, the story going into the game is the banner-raising and just how special it will be for everyone who was involved with the club last season. Once the pick drops, though, that gets thrown out the window. Should the Red Wings come up short on Thursday night, all the questions will be about their performance rather than their emotions as they watched the Stanley Cup banner go up.

"The one thing that we've said is we want to get off to a good start," veteran forward Kris Draper said. "You talk about the first 20 games and how important it is — for us in here, it's going to mean a lot. As soon as things don't go well, that’s exactly what we're going to hear. The media's going to be all over it and talking about how tough it is to repeat. For us, that's just facing adversity. We can't get caught up in that. We just have to find ways to win hockey games."

As the Wings have demonstrated in the past, they generally don't get caught up in adversity. Despite losing practically their entire blue line at times during the second half of last season, they still managed to win the Presidents' Trophy with 115 points. Clearly, Detroit coach Mike Babcock has done a tremendous job of getting his team prepared to play.

On Thursday, his task is to have his player ready on a night that will certainly bring back memories of what the Red Wings were able to accomplish in 2007-08.

"We’re hungry," injured forward Darren McCarty said. "These guys who have won four (championships) want five. The guys who won one want another one. We are a very focused, very well-prepared hockey club. That’s what Babs makes sure of. We just want to win. That's what we’re here to do."

For those who have four several championships in Detroit — Lidstrom, Draper, McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Tomas Holmstrom — the motivation has yet to dry up. Sure, it was nice to win a fourth championship last June. Now, it's time to win No. 5.

But it won't be easy. Being the defending champion means the Red Wings have 29 teams gunning for them. But you don't need to tell them that. They already know.

"I've been here since ’96, and we've won a few Stanley Cups and we've been upset in the first or second round or lost in the conference final," Maltby said. "The motivation the next year is always to get back. They always say whoever wins the Stanley Cup has that bulls-eye on them, but whether we win or lose, it seems like that's always the case. Teams always gear up against us. I don't think motivation is a problem. If we don't come out to play on a nightly basis, it's going to be a tough night for us. I think that whole hangover thing is kind of urban legend. I don't think there's any real truth to it. It's up to us to prove to everybody that there is no such thing."

But after all of their hard work, the Red Wings deserve to enjoy the on-ice ceremony before the puck drops on Thursday night. For players such as Lidstrom, it's a feeling that never gets old.

"It's special every time you're a part of it," Lidstrom said. "It'll be a special night. It's fun for the players — and it's fun for the fans, too. But I think once the banner goes up there, you realize it's time for a new season. It's a great ending to a great season.”

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