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HockeyFest big hit with players, fans of all ages

by Rick Bowness / Detroit Red Wings
Joe Louis Arena was overflowing with awesomeness on Saturday, as the 2011 edition of Red Wings HockeyFest was staged at the classic Motor City venue. In addition to providing the NHL’s best fans with a chance to meet and mingle with some of their favorite players in advance of the team’s impending training camp, several exhibits and interactive games were set up throughout the arena to help citizens of Hockeytown get ready for the upcoming 2011-12 season.

Classic games such as tabletop hockey, air hockey, and video hockey were played throughout the day at a special Kids’ Zone which was set up on the main concourse at JLA, while innovative skills challenge stations like the Fan-Tastic Sports ‘Virtual Passer’, the ‘Snipers Fire’ accuracy shooting range, the ‘Deflective Zone’ tip-in trial, the ‘Hardest Shot’ radar challenge, and the stick-handling-testing ‘Dangle Zone’ – which superstar puck magician Pavel Datsyuk tried his hand at – were erected on the main arena floor. Members of the Red Wings on hand for the proceedings were excited to be able to engage with their ever-loyal fans in such a relaxed, fun environment.

“It’s really great to be here, this is an awesome event,” said Michigan-born forward Justin Abdelkader, 24. “I had a chance to hang out in the Kids’ Zone and play around on a few of the games which was a lot of fun and it’s always great to be able to interact with our awesome fans like this.”

Red Wings alumnus Nick Libett, 65, echoed Abdelkader’s sentiment. “The atmosphere in this building is always great and getting the chance to spend time with everyone here has been very enjoyable. People here really love the Red Wings and it’s great to be able to be a part of something like this.”

Eleven-year-old hockey fanatic John Mark of Berkley, MI, had the chance to meet his favorite player on Saturday – reigning Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, who autographed a recently-published, commemorative issue of ‘The Hockey News’ for the young fan. “That was a big thrill,” said Mark. “It was awesome seeing Nick in person and I’m excited about all of the games on the floor too.”

HockeyFest attendees were also able to tour the Red Wings’ locker room, pose for photos with Detroit’s 2008 Stanley Cup banner as well as the official JLA zamboni, and visit a  retrospective featuring memorabilia from throughout the team’s 86-year history on Saturday. 

Longtime Red Wings devotee Margaret Campbell enjoyed seeing artifacts such as a game-worn Gordie Howe jersey as well as programs, ticket stubs, and magazines from Hockeytown of yesteryear on display at the impressive exhibition. “It’s been a great day here at The Joe and getting the chance to meet some of the players and spend time with fellow fans has been wonderful,” said the 63-year-old Detroiter. “I can’t wait for the season to start now.”

Throughout the day in the C.C. Olympia Club, fans were able to ask questions of their heroes as part of an interactive forum hosted by renowned broadcasters Jeff Riger and Ken Kal (of co-presenting event sponsor 97.1 The Ticket) as well as 2011 DSBA Ty Tyson Award winner Ken Daniels (of Fox Sports Detroit, also a co-presenting sponsor of HockeyFest). During these light-hearted and engaging segments, audience members were able to appropriate invaluable information such as Nicklas Lidstrom’s favorite all-time hockey movie – the Paul Newman vehicle ‘Slap Shot’. Countryman Henrik Zetterberg, meanwhile, cited the oft-overlooked classic ‘Youngblood’ (starring Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze) as his favorite hockey film of all-time. Later in the afternoon, gritty two-way forward Daniel Cleary selected Matt Damon as the actor best-suited to play him in a potential biopic while citing Zach Galifianakis as the performer he’d envision playing the role of Ty Conklin in a movie based upon the journeyman goaltender’s career. “Mainly because of the beard,” Cleary quipped during the final Q&A session of the day. 

All in all, 2011 Red Wings HockeyFest proved to be a memorable experience for all involved.

“This is my first time at this event and I really thought it was fantastic,” said veteran winger Patrick Eaves. “It was awesome to get pictures with everyone and feel the tremendous support from the fans here. Events like this are why this place is special and why Detroit is deservedly known as ‘Hockeytown’ around the world.”
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