DETROIT – It’s been a tumultuous first month of the season for former Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler, who skated this morning at Joe Louis Arena for the first time as a visiting player with the Calgary Flames.
Hudler, who signed a four-year, $16 million free agent contact with the Flames during the off-season, missed training camp and the first three games of the season following the death of his father. Jiri Hudler, Sr. was just 50-years-old when he died on Jan. 14.
“It’s been tough, but (hockey) obviously helps a lot, being around the guys, talking to the guys, to my teammates, my ex-teammates, and just thinking about hockey,” said Hudler, who played seven seasons with the Wings. “The schedule is so tight you have no time to think about other things.”
That’s certainly not the case as it pertains to tonight’s game, as Hudler prepares for his first NHL game against his former Wings’ teammates.
“I don’t want to be over-motivated,” he said. “Those are my friends, my ex-teammates, but at the same time … I don’t want to lose against them. We need these points, too. We’re in a critical situation. To play in this building, it’s tough. They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of skill.”
Hudler used Tuesday morning to meet with several of his former teammates, including Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary, who have maintained a friendship and consoled the Czech star recently.
“His dad passed away and Bert and I had been in pretty good contact with him,” Cleary said. “We were probably the closest with him. He misses the guys here, but he says he’s having fun. He’s playing a lot more in Calgary than he did here and he likes that. And that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why he left.”
Despite playing in just three games this season, Hudler has been a pleasant addition to the Flames, collecting two goals and three assists. The 5-foot-10 dynamo isn’t afraid to go to the hard areas, including the front of the net, which he did a lot in a Wings’ uniform. Last season, Hudler produced a career-best 25 goals.
“He’s so creative, his passing, his vision around the net,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “He’s very gifted. He has that quick release that can surprise many goalies but at the same time he was raised in a great organization and you can tell. His on-ice habits are very good. I think that’s going to be a great example to our young players.”
Despite his penchant for crashing the net-front, the Wings know that Hudler is far from being one-dimensional.
“He’s a good passer as well,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “That’s an underestimated part of his game how well he finds guys out there. We’ll have to be aware of that when the puck’s on his stick and find the guys in the soft spot.”
Niklas Kronwall said Hudler’s speed and size can present problems in the defensive zone.
“It's hard because you can’t really get a hold of him, especially now the way the game is being called,” Kronwall said. “At the same, if we can eliminate most of his space right away we can get support from other players, make it tough on him that way.”
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