DETROIT – Darren Helm expects to battle some nerves when he steps onto the ice at the Red Wings’ development camp in Traverse City this afternoon.
Today’s on-ice practice with pro prospects and other camp invitees will be the first time Helm has skated since early May.
I haven’t been on the ice since Game 3 or 4 against Anaheim when I took a pre-game skate,” said Helm, in a phone interview with DetroitRedWings.com. “This will be the first time I’m on the ice. I’m a little nervous and hoping that we’ve given it enough time.”
The nerves that Helm is likely to experience – at least early in camp – stem from a lengthy recovery following a lower back injury sustained while lifting weights last January.
The injury has lingered ever since, which has limited the veteran center’s mobility and forced him to miss all but one game last season. Now he hopes to gauge things this week in preparation for the Wings’ training camp in September.
“I just expect to get on the ice and test it out,” he said. “Probably start out a little slow doing a few drills and then depending on how it feels you can begin pushing a little more. It's feeling much better than it was when the season ended. I don't expect to have any issues, but we want to be smart and take it a day at a time.”
While staying away from the rink for nearly two months has obviously given Helm time to rest the injury, a recent return to his Winnipeg home also lifted his spirit and strengthened his mental outlook.
“At the end of the year nothing was happening. It felt like every day someone was asking me how I was doing,” Helm said. “I’d just tell them that I really didn't feel like talking about it. I still don't love talking about it, but I got to go home for a week. It was good to get home and hit the reset button and get my head back to where it needed to be. It was a long, frustrating year for me. Just to get those 10 days at home were nice. Now I'm ready to get back at it, get back on the ice. I feel a lot more positive with things, so I'm excited.”
Helm’s injury frustrated, as well as mystified the Red Wings as team doctors and several specialists couldn’t come up with a solution for his pain. The only thing everyone could agree upon was rest.
“He’s a young man, we need him,” coach Mike Babcock said after the Detroit was eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. “There's no one more sick to his stomach than Helmer over Helmer not playing. But two years in a row we didn't have him at playoff time. We need him at playoff time. … The optimist in me says he's a young man, they got to find (the cure); the medical profession is pretty good. We got to figure this out and he's got to get back and playing.”
Helm’s plan is to remain cautious during drills this week in Traverse City, as his primary goal is to be ready for the club’s main training camp in September. And it’s there that he’s looking forward to meeting Red Wings’ newcomers Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss – both agreed to free agent contracts with Detroit last Friday.
“I don’t know too much about playing against them with them in the East and us having been in the West,” Helm said. “You rarely ever see those guys so I don’t know what they’re like to play against, or with. It will be very exciting to get on the ice with them. Obviously, Alfredsson has been around for a long time. He’s a great player and you’d have to kind of living under a rock if you don’t know of him.
“I don’t really know too much about Weiss. He’s a good player and will work hard and battle. It’s going to be exciting to have both of them as additions.”
While he’s anxious to meet his new teammates, Helm was bummed to learn that Valtteri Filppula moved on, and Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner might not return.
“You never want to see guys leave and it’s too bad that things didn’t work out with us and Fil,” he said. “You become family and it’s kind of rare for my short period of time in Detroit to see players that have been in the organization and brought up and played having to leave. He was a great teammate, great friend and great leader on a great team.
“As far as the other guys, we don’t know what’s going to happen to them yet, so you don’t want to say too much about it. It would be tough to lose anybody, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
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