DETROIT – After a year in Russia, Jiri Hudler was excited Monday to be back amongst his Red Wings’ teammates.
Hudler skated with the Red Wings in an informal practice at Joe Louis Arena for the first time since he made the decision to defect to the Kontinental Hockey League’s Moscow Dynamo.
“It’s seems like I never left,” he said.
Hudler signed a two-year contract with the Dynamo. But the team folded after last season, paving the way for veteran forward’s return to Detroit where he had played three full seasons and won a Stanley Cup.
“It feels great and I’m thrilled to be back,” Hudler said. “I missed this locker room. I missed the city, my friends.”
While playing in Russia was a learning experience – the Czechoslovakian learned to speak Russian – it wasn’t the same as playing in the NHL.
The KHL plays a 54-game schedule, compared to 82 in the NHL. Hudler finished the KHL season with 19 goals and 34 assists, and Wings coach Mike Babcock has been on record as saying he expects more like 70 points out of his returning forward who will likely skate on the Wings’ third line with center Mike Modano and forward Dan Cleary.
“I don’t mind pressure,” said Hudler, who scored 52 goals in 255 NHL games with the Wings. “It’s a pretty big number, but you just have to be focused. You have to produce, but we’ll see.”
Hudler, who spent the off-season in California working out with famed fitness trainer T.R. Goodman, said he feels rejuvenated and ready to get the season underway.
“I lifted more weights this year and T.R. thought it would be good for me,” Hudler said. “I’ve been skating in California, but it’s not the same as doing it in a game.”
The decision to return to the Red Wings, where he has a contract in place through the 2011-12 season, was easy, Hudler said.
“We ended in losing in the first round (of the playoffs) in Russia, and you just wanted to take a break,” Hudler said. “I wanted to go back and be a part of this team, this city and this community. I made the decision right away.”
Hudler’s decision to come back to Detroit was made sweeter when he learned that he would have the opportunity to play with Modano, one of the NHL’s all-time greats.
“He’s one of the best ever,” Hudler said. “It was a huge move for us to get him in this line-up. He can play all the situations, power-play, he can be in the back, he can be in the front. It’s just great to have him around. Obviously, he came here for reasons. He wants to be a part of a winning team, too. So he’ll fit right in.”