TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – It happened so fast that neither guy likely knew what hit them on the first day of the Red Wings’ training camp.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to give heads up to either guy soon enough,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.
The start of training camp wasn’t 10-minutes old Friday morning when Darren Helm and Jerome Verrier, a 21-year-old camp invitee, were involved a horrific on-ice collision near the team benches at Centre Ice Arena.
Both players, who collided head first – each skating at top speed – were taken to Munson Medical Center for treatment, though Verrier’s injuries were serious enough that he went to the hospital by ambulance.
Blashill said that Helm has a concussion and will miss at least a week, while Verrier will be sidelined a long time after he suffered a fractured right leg.
Verrier is scheduled to undergo surgery Saturday morning to insert a rod in the leg, which should speed his recovery process, according to team doctors.
No stranger to bad-luck injuries himself, Helm’s timetable to return is uncertain.
“With the concussion protocol he’ll be, I guess we say day to day but it’s probably a little bit longer than that,” Blashill said of Helm’s return.
Helm was skating on a line with Tomas Tatar and center Brad Richards on Day 1 of the Red Wings’ four-day camp. Immediately upon impact, Tatar and others rushed to their fallen teammate near the team benches.
“You don’t want to see that on the first drill in the camp,” he said. “It happens. It’s hockey. It’s a fast game. Those two guys didn’t see each other.”
In obvious distress, Verrier was taken off the ice on a stretcher and loaded into the back of an ambulance.
This was Verrier’s second invite to the Wings’ main camp. He participated in last September’s main camp, but he returned to his team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. This month, Verrier also played two exhibition games in the NHL Prospects Tournament, which ended here Tuesday night with the Red Wings losing in the finals to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Johan Franzen didn’t see the accident, but heard it, which he said was just as nauseating.
“That kid he (was) in so much pain,” said Franzen, who has had numerous concussions in his career. “He was sitting by me and feeling kind of sick for a while. I hope that he’s going to recover fast and get back to playing.”
Verrier, a native of Drummondville, Quebec, finished his junior-league eligibility last season and was hoping to do well enough this week in the Wings’ camp to earn a playing contact in the ECHL or AHL.
“That’s not something you want to see,” Richards said. “Never been through something like that. It was pretty loud, not a good scene on the ice. I’m not sure what’s going to happen there. Hopefully they get better quick.”
BACK TO SCHOOL: For Franzen and captain Henrik Zetterberg, the first day of training camp marked a new beginning for the two Swedes.
For the previous 10 seasons, the two had known nothing but Mike Babcock as head coach. Now they have some adjusting to do with Blashill. But that’s a good thing.
“It is refreshing,” Zetterberg said. “Meetings, drills, everything is different. So it's good for us veteran guys that have been here for 10 years. The last 4-5 years, you knew everything that was going on. Now you've actually got to think out there. It is nice to reset your brain. I think the skate we had today was a lot of pace, we skated well. It was a good start.”
Franzen said he felt a new spring in his step during the first day of camp.
“It’s a new voice so it’s kind of exciting,” he said. “It’s been 10 years and the same coach every year. It’s a fresh start and it’s kind of like you’re young again. You want to show what you can do. Even though I’m 35 years old, I kind of want to show him that side.”
Richards is a veteran who has played for more than one coach but since this is his first year in the Red Wings’ organization, he didn't know Blashill at all.
“He’s been great so far,” Richards said. “Tons of communication, especially for me coming in from the outside. You’re going to know where you stand. That’s always nice to be able to communicate with a coach and see what they want and make sure you’re doing it right.”
As for Blashill himself, he admitted to a few nerves on his first official day with the entire team.
“Every new job that I’ve taken, whether it was in junior, college, the American League, here, pretty much every season I think you have a little bit of butterflies,” he said. “You have a little bit of nerves in a sense that you want to be as prepared as possible. You want to cover as much as you can. It’s almost impossible to have everything covered. You’re going to have some stumbling blocks today, but you have to be able to react. I certainly was excited about getting going and it’s fun to get rolling.”
THREE OF A KIND: This season, Richards is looking to become just the second player in NHL history to reach the Stanley Cup finals in three consecutive seasons with three different teams. He played last season with the only man to do it, Marian Hossa (Pittsburgh 2008, Detroit 2009, Chicago 2010).
Richards reached the Cup finals with the New York Rangers, in 2013. He helped the Blackhawks win it last spring.
Now, the 15-year veteran hopes to fit into a new system with his third Original Six team in three seasons.
“I want to bring good veteran leadership,” Richards said. “I want to help offensively, help the power play. Try and continue what they do here by playing hard both ways. I’ve been lucky enough to play on some great teams and great organizations. This is no different so I’m hoping to bring some of that experience to this group.”
DAY 1 SCRIMMAGE: Led by goals from Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist and Jonathan Ericisson, Team Lindsay erased a two-goal deficit to beat Team Howe, 4-3, Friday afternoon in the first intra-squad scrimmage of the Red Wings training camp.
Zetterberg looked sharp, scoring the winning goal and adding an assist.
“It's fun to be out there for the first day of camp,” Zetterberg said “I think we had the best setup today, practice, then scrimmage. I think our line had a good start. Both Gus and Abby were flying out there so it made it easier for me."
While it was just the first day of camp, and most players were more focused on what they needed to do, Dylan Larkin managed to impress the Wings’ captain.
“He looks good,” Zetterberg said. “He blew by me after (the) face-off, scored that opening goal. He has everything, he skates real well, he's strong, for his age he's really strong out there. When he gets his chances, he can put the puck away. It's going to be fun to see him here preseason and see where he ends up.”
DetroitRedWings.com editor Dana Wakiji contributed to this report.