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Ericsson is pumped for first outdoor game

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson hops to return to the lineup after missing six games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

GROSSE POINTE WOODS, Mich.Jonathan Ericsson is ready to return to the Red Wings’ lineup – and his outdoor roots – this weekend.

And the Red Wings’ defenseman couldn’t be more excited.

Following Wednesday’s practice at University Liggett School in suburban Detroit, Ericsson told coach Jeff Blashill that after missing six games with an undisclosed lower-body injury he’s ready to get back to work.

Ericsson’s timing couldn’t be better from a personal standpoint. See, the Red Wings will face the Colorado Avalanche in Saturday’s NHL Stadium Series game at Coors Field in downtown Denver, and it will be the first outdoor contest of Ericsson’s professional career.

“I was really bummed that I missed the last one, a little fluke injury just over a week before the last outdoor game,” said Ericsson, who was sidelined by two broken ribs for the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. “I feel good now and hopefully I'll be able to play Saturday."

The 31-year-old Ericsson is the only Wings’ player over the age of 30 who hasn’t already participated in one of the league’s outdoor games.

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall have played in two outdoor games, while eight other current Wings played in the game against Toronto in Ann Arbor.

Brad Richards and Mike Green, newcomers to the Wings this season, have also experienced the outdoor games with other teams. In fact, Richards is one of three players who have appeared in four outdoor games, the most in league history.

At different youth levels, Ericsson believes he likely played more outdoor games than indoors while growing up in southeastern Sweden.

“I think as a kid I played a lot outdoors and it was actually more fun to play indoors because you knew that it wasn't going to rain in your face or you had to shovel extra snow (because) you could barely find the puck sometimes,” he said. “We didn't have those power breaks when you were a kid, when you had shovelers coming in shoveling all the snow. It was just stick with it for 20 minutes and hopefully you can see the puck."

Ericsson looked good during a spirited, one-hour practice on Wednesday. He skated with Green to make up the second defensive pairing behind Kronwall and Alexey Marchenko. The third pairing was Danny DeKeyser and Kyle Quincey.

“We anticipate Ericsson playing but we'll check it out and see how it was,” Blashill said.

However, shortly after practice concluded the Red Wings announced that they had reassigned Xavier Ouellet to AHL Grand Rapids, which frees a roster spot for Ericsson’s pending return.

Asked if he planned to stick with Ericsson and Green as a pairing Saturday in Colorado, Blashill said, “We'll evaluate. We've got to see where Johnny's at and then we'll evaluate and make those decisions.”

Petr Mrazek wore specially designed equipment Wednesday for the upcoming Stadium Series game against the Colorado Avalanche. His mask is a tribute to Hall-of-Fame goalie Dominik Hasek. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

FIRST-TIMERS: Aside from Ericsson, there are seven other players on the Wings’ roster who have not played in an NHL outdoor game. They are Marchenko, Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, Teemu Pulkkinen, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco and Petr Mrazek.

OUTDOOR NOTES: The Red Wings hold the all-time record for most shots on goal in one outdoor game. Actually, they reached the mark twice. Detroit registered 43 SOG in a 6-4 win over the Blackhawks at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 2009. Five years later they equaled their shot total in a 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto in Ann Arbor in 2014. …

Zetterberg enters Saturday’s game with the most career assists in outdoor games. The Wings’ captain has four helpers in two games. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa also have point assists, though they have played in four and three games, respectively. ...

Avalanche defenseman Brad Stuart will not face his former teammates in Saturday’s outdoor game at Coors Field. The former Wing, who played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, had back surgery earlier this month and is out indefinitely. He’s played in just six games this season. …

Richards is one of three players with the most NHL outdoor games experience having played in four previous games. The Wings’ center played three times with the New York Rangers – in the 2012 Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, a pair of 2014 Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium – and last year with the Blackhawks in 2014 Winter Classic at Nationals Park in Washington D.C.

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