DETROIT – Four Red Wings had the unique chance to get a different view of Joe Louis Arena Wednesday morning.
Defenseman Jakub Kindl, goalie Petr Mrazek, and forwards Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Tatar had the privilege to ride along with the United States Coast Guard as they topped speeds of 40 knots on the Detroit River.
The players went on a cruise that lasted approximately 20 minutes with a stop in front of The Joe, where the players and USCG crew snapped photos while the Wings’ iconic home served as an ideal backdrop.
“It’s pretty amazing just to experience something like this,” said Kindl, standing on the vessel’s starboard as it docked at Sector Detroit near Harbortown. “Listening to what these guys have to say and listening about their jobs is just amazing what they have to go through every day just to keep us safe, to keep us alive. It was a great experience.”
The players’ visit with the men and women of the Coast Guard was part of the team’s seventh annual MI Wings Community Tour, presented by ITC Holdings Corp. Two groups of players made scheduled stops at four locations Wednesday – including a military base in northern Michigan and two hospitals – en route to Traverse City where training camp for the upcoming NHL season begins Friday at Centre Ice Arena.
Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Brian Lashoff and Riley Sheahan visited with cancer patients and participated in joint therapy exercises alongside patients at the MidMichigan Health Center in Midland. The foursome also stopped in at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center in Grayling, where they had the opportunity to fire weapons – with the guidance of trained military members, or course.
After signing some autographs for about 30 ‘coasties’ and presenting Sector Detroit Commander Ray Negron with a special personalized Red Wings jersey, the players were on their way to Grand Rapids where they visited with pediatric patients at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
The Coast Guard personnel were happy to welcome the players to their station, and the commander had some fun at the players’ expense, suggesting that the items they signed for him were enlistment papers.
“Glad to have you guys on board,” Cmdr. Negron playfully announced. “It’s a great day for an event like this. We had the Detroit Tigers here a couple of years back and it’s great to have the Red Wings here today.”
Having grown up in Allegan, Michigan, Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Miller has been a huge Red Wings’ fan. So when he heard last week that players were making a special visit, he was more that excited.
“My all-time favorite is Brendan Shanahan,” Miller said. “But meeting these guys is pretty cool.”
The ride along with the Coast Guard was definitely a hit with the players, who thoroughly enjoyed the speed of the ‘45’ with its twin diesel engines and water-jet propulsion system, which eliminates propellers for safer search and rescue operations.
“It’s fast,” Kindl said, “but they need to have a quick boat in case something were to happen out there on the river. They have to get there fast, so it makes sense that this boat is as fast as it is.”
The area of responsibility for those assigned to Sector Detroit is the Detroit River from the west end of Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair. Their mission is search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, homeland security, ice rescue, recreational boating safety, military readiness and environmental response.
“They’re a huge part of our freedom and keeping the water safe and keeping us safe,” Abdelkader said. “They have a big role with a unique situation with us and Canada being so close with the border. But also if anyone goes in distress in the water they’re the ones who jump right out to help. They definitely have a very important job and we’re grateful to have this opportunity to come out and do this.”
The community tour has become synonymous with the start of training camp for the Red Wings. It’s something the players don’t take for granted though. If anything, they truly enjoy it.
“It’s great to meet with so many different people in the community, whether it’s in a fire station or with the Coast Guard,” Kindl said. “You’re learning on visits like this, and when they’re asking us a question about hockey we’re asking them a question about their jobs and their priorities. So it works both ways.”