TRAVERSE CITY – It was an amazing display of strength and stamina befitting a mule.
According to Pete Renzetti, the Red Wings’ strength and conditioning coach, every player was off the chart on his fitness testing this week before the start of training camp at Centre ICE Arena.
But one player in particular caught the attention of everyone in the gym – Johan Franzen.
The 34-year-old Franzen was especially impressive in his bike test, finishing far above his teammates, Renzetti said.
“Yeah, I saw his test and it’s pretty crazy what he can do,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “Mule was an unbelievable bike test and there are other guys who have really shown that they have stepped up this summer.
“We talked a lot about that as a team and I think we wanted to have a big summer and we wanted to come in in real good shape for this camp. That’s how you stay healthy for a full year. I think it’s great to see that all of the guys have done their work and it shows on some of the testing.”
The Red Wings suffered through a myriad of injuries last season, including Franzen, who missed games at different times with a hip flexor, an upper back, and concussion. Injuries occur, but avoiding as many as possible is something the players and this organization hope to do in 2014-15.
For this Red Wings’ squad, it started in the offseason with recuperation, especially for guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss and Jimmy Howard, who missed significant time.
“I think it benefited all of us,” Howard said. “There were a lot of us who were banged up last year and trying to play through a lot of stuff. Getting Pav and Z back healthy and having them rest, and giving (Daniel) Cleary with his knee time to heal, I think it's going to be an exciting year for us.”
Always in extraordinary physical condition, Franzen took full advantage of a longer than usual offseason when the Red Wings suffered an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We got knocked out early so it went a bit longer, vacation, than I had in a long time so I really missed hockey,” Franzen said. “It’s been way too long since we played but I’ve been healthy all summer, been able to work out so no complaints.”
He didn’t focus on any one thing, or change up his work-out routine from previous summers, during his training back home in Sweden, though he credits his general body condition.
“I was healthy,” he said. “When my offseason started I was healthy, just been working out pretty much the whole summer and trying to come (in) as prepared as I can.”
Through the first two days of training camp, Franzen’s off-ice commitment has been evident, drawing praise from coach Mike Babcock.
“Mule has been a hot and cold player. I think he has the ability to be a hot player, period,” Babcock said. “The difference in consistency is that on it every day, every day, every day, digging in. It’s no skill set. So that’s the challenge for the Mule. But Mule is a good player. He scores goals for us. We’re optimistic with all the offseason training he’s done that he can be more consistent offensively this year.”
Injuries certainly have hampered some of Franzen’s production in recent years. But when healthy – like he was on four of the five seasons prior to the NHL lockout – Mule was extremely efficient, averaging nearly 30 goals and 52 points per season.
“We need him to be good for us to have success with this team,” Nyquist said. “I’ve never really been worried about Mule’s fitness, I think he’s always been in great shape as long as I’ve been here. But it’s great to see him really digging in.”