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Emotional Ferraro watches son's debut

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Ray Ferraro shakes hands with then-Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman after the Blues lost a 2002 playoff series in Detroit. It was Ferraro's last NHL game. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – It’s been nearly 12 years since Ray Ferraro called it quits after 18 NHL seasons, but he vividly remembers walking out of Joe Louis Arena with his family, and his youngest son Landon in tears.

“Right at the end of this hallway when I walked out, Landon and his older brother Matt were waiting,” said Ferraro, pointing to the Zamboni tunnel inside The Joe. “They both had their St. Louis Blues jerseys on and their hats and Landon was in tears. He knew what it meant.”

Then, tears cascaded out of sadness; Tuesday they were tears of happiness. Though, it was Ray who needed the Kleenex as his eyes welled with excitement as he talked glowingly about his son’s pending debut in the same building that he played his last NHL game.

“There’s no chance I won’t (tear up)” said Ray, moments before Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I try to disassociate myself from it when I talk about it but to watch him skate at the start of the game will be incredible.”

The Red Wings made Landon Ferraro an emergency call up after they learned that Justin Abdelkader will miss up to two weeks after he suffered a severe cut on a leg in the third period of Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Chicago. Ferraro is the seventh rookie to make his NHL debut with the Red Wings, who have been decimated by injuries this season.

Besides beginning his career at JLA, Landon, like his father, had the fortunate of playing his first game against the NHL team that he idolized most as a child.

“It was against Boston, which was my favorite team growing up,” Ray said, about his debut with the Hartford Whalers in 1984. “Toronto was his favorite team. So I told him, ‘I know you’re going to be nervous, excited, but take a look around. You’re never going to play your first game again.’ ”

Landon Ferraro was the Red Wings’ first pick in the 2009 draft, ahead of Tomas Tatar, who was playing in his 86 NHL game on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Ferraro is playing in his third full season with Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. He has produced 14 goals and 28 points in 60 games with the Griffins.

It hasn’t been an easy ascension for Landon, especially watching other prospects out-race him to his personal goal – reaching the NHL.

“It’s funny, most everybody realizes how the Wings do things and it requires patients,” said Ray, who was joined by Landon’s mom Tracey, at the game. “The players understand that but they’re all in a hurry. You’re 21, 22 years old and you look around the league and you see other players that you played against and you go, ‘Well, I’m as good as that guy.’ But it doesn’t matter. You don’t play for them, you play in this organization. I think that’s always an internal thing that they fight.

“The fact of the matter is that it’s so far beyond your control. Now he couldn’t be more excited to be here. It’s just one game and who knows what happens but that’s just the way it is. He’s worked a long time, like all of these kids, to get a chance. For whatever the circumstances, it looks like he’s getting his chance now.”

Since retiring as a player, Ray, 49, has worked as a TV color analyst and works between the benches for TSN during telecasts. Not knowing if Landon would play, Ray caught a flight late Tuesday afternoon to Detroit to support him either way.

“I haven’t talked to him today about playing or not because he wasn’t 100 percent sure that he was in when I talked to him,” said Ray, who played 1,258 games for six different NHL clubs. “We talked yesterday when he called in the morning. I asked him how he was doing. It was kind of early in Vancouver and he said, ‘I’m just going to pick up my gear, I’m going to Detroit.’ That’s just the best. It’s one of the best phone calls I can ever remember getting.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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