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Former Wings preparing for 'Showdown'

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Former Red Wings Joey Kocur (left) and Chris Chelios share a laugh during the alumni's first practice at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. (Photo by Kevin T. Wilson/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – One by one they stepped onto the ice – Chris Chelios, John Ogrodnick, Larry Murphy, Dino Ciccarelli, Jason Woolley, Jiri Fischer, Kris Draper, Eddie Mio, Mickey Redmond, Joe Kocur, Doug Brown, Paul Ysebaert.

With only 29 days until the Maple Leafs vs. Red Wings Alumni Showdown, these former Red Wings reported for practice at The Joe Monday morning.

It was go time.

“I thought guys looked good,” said Draper, who organized the practice. “No matter what you do in the gym or whatever you do, there’s nothing like training skating legs. I think we’re probably going to try to skate about 2-3 times per week right up to the Classic. Guys want to do it, guys are excited about it, Al Sobotka’s great at getting us ice and we’ll come out and guys will make a good commitment to come.”

The scrimmage’s pace, line changes and breakaways weren’t quite as quick as those of their glory days, but between the laughs, whacks and traditional trash talk, there were moments of brilliance serving as reminders that these were some of the best players to ever wear the Winged Wheel.

“I’m feeling great,” said Redmond, who will turn 66 on Dec. 27. “It’s a good thing I’ve been skating for a year. We’re just starting to ramp it up now so the year was just to get it going, get the kinks out and now we’ll do double duty.”

It will take Chelios a little bit longer to work out his kinks, but that’s exactly what the Hall of Famer was expecting.

“I played a little keep away with Pav (Datsyuk) and he put me in my place, but I didn’t expect to feel good today,” Chelios said. “I said I wasn’t going to skate too much before just because of my knee and it felt as good as could be expected.”

Pavel Datsyuk joined the alumni practice, skating amongst former teammates and other legendary Red Wings who had never skated with him before. The Wings’ center has missed the last four games with a concussion when he was elbowed in the jaw by Ottawa’s Jared Cowen on Nov. 23.

“He helped the red team out a lot,” Draper said of Datsyuk’s participation. “He’s a pretty good player. I think it was fun especially for guys who haven’t had the opportunity to skate with him, just some of the stuff that he does, it’s magic what that man can do with a puck, a lot of fun.

“He kind of toyed with Cheli and I. We wanted to try to make it (keep away) two versus one, but it ended up being one versus two with how good Pavel is. It was just a lot of fun to be back on the ice, I think guys are looking forward to it.”

Those at Monday’s practice are only a few of the former players who will be playing in the Alumni Showdown, as Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Berenson, Tomas Holmstrom, Igor Larionov, Brendan Shanahan, Slava Fetisov and Chris Osgood are just a few expected to play at Comerica Park on Dec. 31.

It’s an event that the players have been looking forward to for months.

“I’m really looking forward to just being in the dressing room with all these guys, being a part of such a wonderful thing, a great celebration to the game of hockey, especially the outdoors,” Redmond said. “For me, if I played one game indoors I played 50 games outdoors growing up. It’ll be a long trip back to where it all began for me but I’m looking forward to being at Comerica Park and 40,000 people and just having a ball.”

Chelios concurred.

“Skating outside is always fun especially in a setting like Comerica Park or a baseball field, which is kind of unique, and then seeing all the guys,” he said. “My family’s going to be there, friends, and a lot of people coming from out of town so that’s pretty special. It’s a one year event and not even that when you’re in your home building so it’s going to be really great.”

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone attending, and the alumni are doing everything in their power to put on a great show as they prepare for their battle against Toronto. Draper has organized a training camp of sorts with practice 2-3 times per week leading up to the games and he hopes that two strong wins for Detroit’s alumni will bode well for the current Red Wings on New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor.

“We got two games on the 31st and we want to set the tone for the big game at The Big House,” Draper said. “I think guys are into it and guys are getting excited.”

Tickets for the Alumni Showdown on Tuesday, Dec. 31 can still be purchased by clicking HERE or by calling 313-471-7575.

The event marks the final day of the 2013 SiriusXM Hockeytown Winter Festival™ in Detroit, leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® between Detroit and Toronto on New Year’s Day at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Each ticket is good for both games of the New Year’s Eve doubleheader (1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.) and provides free access to the Coke Zero Fan Zone in the parking lots just outside Comerica Park.

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