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Notebook: Wings set to face old friend

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – While the Red Wings are viewing their upcoming games in Florida as just another business trip in a marathon season, it’s inescapable for them to shake off Thursday’s sidebar when the Lightning hosts their new boss’s old team at St. Pete Times Forum.

For the first time in his Hall of Fame career, Steve Yzerman will be foe rather than friend to an organization that he helped return to Stanley Cup glory during an illustrious 22-season playing career.

TALE OF THE TAPE: The two GMs go head-to-head in this Q&A session!

Now, in his first season at the helm as Lightning’ general manager, Yzerman has his club ready for a run at the President’s Trophy this season, which is a far cry from where the club has been for the last three seasons – out of the playoffs.

“You never know when a new person is coming in, what he can do for an organization,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “But he’s been putting his own stamp on the team and bringing in some guys that he believed in and thought that they could help the team. And they’ve been very successful. They’re second in their own conference and they’ve been playing very well, and Stevie is a big part of that; he’s assembled that team, or at least part of it.”

The Lightning, with first-year coach Guy Boucher, has won 34 games, the same number of wins that they had all of last season, a statistic that isn’t taken lightly among Yzerman’s former teammates.

“Every time you look at the standings and see where they’re at, he’s done a lot of good things down there, and that team’s playing really well,” Wings center Kris Draper said. “It’s certainly going to be different going into Tampa and knowing that it’s Steve Yzerman’s hockey team.”

Tampa isn’t usually a place that opposing players think of as a difficult arena to play in; they’ve won only 33 times in the last two seasons. But heading into Thursday’s lone meeting against the Wings this season, the Lightning are 19-6-2 at home.

“Right now, I want to clinch a playoff spot,” said Yzerman, during a media teleconference Monday. “That’s our No. 1 priority. We have to have a good finish. We just can’t cruise.”

Yzerman and Draper have been friends for 17 years. They golf together in the summer, their children go to the same school, and they stay connected through occasional text messages.

In Draper’s eyes, his friend has always been a winner, and there’s nothing that could have convince the Red Wings’ center that Yzerman would be anything than success at running an NHL franchise.

“Probably right after he got the job, we went out and golfed together,” Draper said. “He talked about how busy he was and how much he had to do. You knew that he was – right away – going to make an impact with that hockey club. With the way that he prepared himself to play, in a way that he played at a high level, you knew that he was going to take that same mentality into being a GM of a hockey club.

“He wanted to right away put his imprint on it, and he’s obviously done that, and they’re playing some great hockey, no doubt.”

And no doubt, guys like Draper, Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood will enjoy seeing their old friend, albeit in a foreign capacity.
“We’re going into his building – and who would have thought that it would be somewhere else – but hopefully we’ll get a chance to see him and talk to him,” Draper said. “But it doesn’t surprise me that that team is playing at such a high level with Stevie running the show.”

But for Yzerman, he’ll try to view Thursday’s game for what it is – the Lightning facing a Western Conference opponent, and nothing more.

“Honestly,” he said. “I’m trying to take all of the emotion out of it.”

Mike Modano Visits VA Hospital
MODANO VA VISIT: Injured center Mike Modano spent some of his Sunday afternoon visiting with military veterans at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit.

Modano’s visit helped kick-off the National Salute to Veteran Patients Week.

“It was great to see those guys,” Modano said. “A lot of them were part of World War I, World War II, Vietnam; I mean these are guys who put their lives on the line for us and for our freedom. They sacrificed to give us what w have today in this country, so it was great to meet them and shake their hands.”

Modano and the some of the vets watched the Red Wings game on television. They also played some mini-sticks hockey in the Community Living Center.

For Modano, the experience of sharing some time with those who have sacrificed so much for a nation, was overwhelming.

“It really is tough, because a couple of them are homeless and they’re living there, and a lot of them are not in touch with their families anymore,” Modano said. “Hopefully it lightened up their day a little bit as we watched a little bit of the game together, and hung out. … It was certainly an honor to meet them.”

While many of the servicemen wanted to hear about Modano’s playing career, the Livonia, Mich., native wanted to hear their stories, too.

“A fella did talk about Vietnam,” he said, “about going through boot camp and getting ready and getting prepared. He was part of the airborne and just some of the things that he had to go through before they set off for Vietnam.

“They’re just tough guys; couldn’t believe the experiences that they had to go through.”

FILPPULA UPDATE: Forward Valtteri Filppula (sprained left MCL), who has missed the last three games, hopes to return to the ice Tuesday when the Red Wings practice at City Sports Arena.

“I will skate (Tuesday) and see how it is,” said Filppula, who has 12 goals and 19 assists in 51 games.

Filppula intends to make the Red Wings’ trip this week to Florida, where they’ll play against the Lightning on Thursday and the Panthers on Friday. But he’s unsure of his timetable to return to the line-up.
 “Unless it’s really good tomorrow, I really don’t have a date set yet,” Filppula said. “We’ll have to wait and see how it feels. I’ll know better tomorrow.”

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