DETROIT – It wasn’t difficult to predict Cory Emmerton’s level of excitement for his return to the Red Wings’ locker room Wednesday morning.
“It feels good,” said Emmerton, who will be in tonight’s lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena.
The forward was recalled from Grand Rapids to help fill the void left by injuries to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Emmerton appeared in just four games for Detroit this season before being sent to the minor league affiliate in mid-October, and made the familiar trip back to Detroit Tuesday night.
“It was weird being at the hotel last night, it was just kind of a weird feeling just coming back here, the same way as when I went back to Grand Rapids,” Emmerton said. “It was kind of interesting but you know everyone around the team so it’s been easy today, business as usual. As far as that goes, everyone has been welcoming.”
During his time with the Red Wings, Emmerton tallied one assist against Buffalo in the season opener. He was sent to Grand Rapids shortly after in an effort to shuffle and jump start the Red Wings’ struggling offense, but initially faced a similar drought of his own in the AHL.
“It was an adjustment, it’s a different league and the first few weeks I didn’t find myself playing as well as I would’ve liked to,” Emmerton said. “I was playing a lot of minutes and maybe I wasn’t used to it, but I think after a few weeks though started to come around a little bit. I tried to stay positive the whole time and maybe deep down it was tough, but it’s part of professional hockey and the business part so I just have to look after myself.”
Emmerton did just that. And as his confidence grew, so did his point total. In 18 games with the Griffins, Emmerton produced three goals and 14 points.
“I just think Cory’s been a very useable play for us in the past,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s gone down there, took him awhile to get his confidence, he’s playing with confidence, making plays, he skates, he’s good defensively, he can penalty kill. We trust him and we’re giving him an opportunity.”
Emmerton is going to make the most of that opportunity to try to re-establish himself in the NHL.
“That’s the biggest thing, is I got to go there and play 20-plus minutes and work on some things that I haven’t got to in a few years,” he said. “So I tried to get my confidence up and you know I think it’s gone a long way, but the biggest thing is just to do it here now.”
Tonight, the Red Wings will be without both Zetterberg (herniated disc) and Datsyuk (concussion) for the first time since the season finale in 2006. Although they were on the ice for the morning skate, Todd Bertuzzi (upper body) and Danny DeKeyser (shoulder) will also miss the matchup against the Flyers.
The abundance of injuries has affected Detroit’s lineup, but Babcock views it as an opportunity for other players to contribute.
“Bottom line we’re in the winning business so we’re going to do whatever we can to win,” Babcock said. “He’s in a situation, just like everyone else, Pav and Z aren’t here, DeKeyser isn’t here, so those are good players that eat up a lot of ice time so someone’s getting the ice time. For me it doesn’t matter who gets it it’s just a matter of someone playing good and takes it. If you’re like DeKeyser was when Ericsson was out he grabbed hold of it and proved his game and now he’s earned the confidence.”
Emmerton will center the fourth line with Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson tonight, and hopes to capitalize on the opportunity to return to the Red Wings lineup quickly, as the length of his stay in Detroit is uncertain.
“Day by day,” Emmerton said. “That’s all you can do in hockey and in this business. I would never even ask because you don’t know.”