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For the players, opener is exciting time

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The curtain finally goes up on the 2011-12 Red Wings when they open the new NHL season Friday against the Ottawa Senators at Joe Louis Arena.

All of the work, planning and scheming that come with training camp and exhibition games are in the past. Now the real work begins for the Wings as they gear-up for a 12th Stanley Cup championship.

“We think that we have a good team,” center Henrik Zetterberg said. “We know that we’ll be there again in the end, and that’s our goal. We really think that we can do it.”

First, the players must get beyond opening night, and the jitters and anxiety some times associated with the first game of the regular-season.

“I really look forward to tomorrow,” said forward Tomas Holmstrom, a veteran of 14 opening nights. “It’s always fun for the opener at home and the season starts. I feel really pumped up and ready to go. It’s going to be so much fun. I can’t wait to start. I just have to go in there and play my game. Everybody is going to be pumped up in Game 1 of 82.”

The energy around the building this week has been incredible as every department associated with the team has frantically been preparing for opening night. Rigging for the extra lights have been hoisted in place above the ice surface. The exterior steps to the arena have a fresh coat of paint and new safety glass near the team benches has been installed.
“It’s an exciting time,” said center Darren Helm, who will participate in his third NHL opening night. “Everybody is excited and everybody is pretty pumped up to get out there. I don’t think there’s a whole lot more added pressure on the first game. Guys are just excited. You get to the rink two hours early and you have to wait around that extra half-hour just to get that (pre-game) stuff in. Guys are pretty anxious to get going, but I don’t think people are going to lose sleep over the long introductions.”

Then there are players who cast nerves a side in their first games, and actually envision success before they get to the rink.

“I remember sitting at home thinking about how nice it would be to score a goal,” said Brunnstrom, who had three goals in his NHL debut. “Then I scored another one, and then a hat trick. So that was a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say nervousness before, but you’re always excited. And you’re more excited to play that first game in front of the home crowd.”

While most players will feel some degree of anxiety just before the puck drops Friday, others, like goalie Jimmy Howard will admit to experience a pit-like feeling, or butterflies in their stomach.

For coach Mike Babcock, the suspense starts months before opening night.

“I spend the whole summer scared, like 'Are we going to be good enough,’ ” Babcock said. “In some organizations, getting a little better is good enough. Here we got to win. We do it year after year after year.

“I really believe it's way harder staying on top that it is getting to the top. We take a lot of pride in the fact that you have a chance. When you have a chance there comes a certain amount of pressure to perform, but that does mean you have an opportunity. We're excited about our opportunity.

“We have lots of changes, but we like what we have. Until we get a 60-minute work ethic every night, until we play with good structure, real good things aren't going to happen for us. We hope we've done job through training camp, you do that every year, you try to instill the best you can and then teams expose things so you try to get better.''

And while winning is always on the front burner for the Red Wings, doing so now, is particularly important considering the success of Detroit’s other pro franchises, which are doing well.

The Detroit Tigers are gearing-up for a decisive Game 5 of its American League Divisional Series against the New York Yankees tonight. Meanwhile the Detroit Lions have become the feel-good story of the young NFL season, as they prepare for a Monday Night Football showdown with the Chicago Bears.

“We hope some of the Lions stuff and some of the Tigers stuff, or the pixie dust, wears off on us a little bit,” Babcock said. “No question about it, it's great for our city. We wish Mr. (Jim) Leyland and the crew well tonight.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @ RooseBill

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