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Notes: Red Wings hit the ice after eight-day break

Bertuzzi out for the weekend; Frk to see first action since New Year's Eve

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Thursday afternoon in Detroit, reality set in for the Red Wings - their break was over and it was back to work.

All the players except goaltender Jimmy Howard, who represented the Wings in the All-Star Game in San Jose, had eight full days off.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: We���re BACK! 🙌 #LGRW pic.twitter.com/wOidMT9aDy

"We went down to Mexico," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "We flew into Cancun and it was just a 40-minute car ride from there. I thought my oldest was gonna love the warm weather because she loves being in the pool, but every day I think she said, 'I want to go home to my house.' We're going home to all this cold weather. Just enjoy it. She loves animals and exploring and looking for iguanas and lizards and all different kinds of animals. She loves that."

Forward Martin Frk also went to Mexico, to Cabo.

"It was good, really good," Frk said. "I had my fiancee there. It was a good break. I stay most of the time on the beach. We also went to the downtown and kind of looked around. It was not too far from our hotel, so we did that. I did want to take it and just really relax from hockey, so I stayed as much in the sun, because we had really good weather there. I did enjoy it there. It was nice."

Unlike his fellow Western Michigan pal, Luke Witkowski, who went ice fishing, defenseman Danny DeKeyser also headed for the warmth of Mexico.

"I went down to Cancun with my wife," DeKeyser said. "There's was a few other guys staying at the same place that we were at. It was fun. It was good for everyone."

Howard and his young sons, James IV, 7, and Henry, 4, had a blast at the All-Star Game and then afterward.

Having the two breaks together instead of splitting them up like last season, was ideal for the veteran netminder.

"I thought it was perfect," Howard said. "A couple of days off before the All-Star break and then five days off. It was refreshing, even for me. To have Sunday, Monday, Tuesday off was good."

Even Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill took a bit of a break from hockey, but not much.

"It was great actually, I was able to watch the Griffins play, I was able to watch my kids play hockey and had a little getaway with my family so it was great," Blashill said. "It was a couple days away so it was awesome."

Even though they had a break, the players all did something to maintain their conditioning.

"Especially a few of the mornings were pretty rainy, so I figured I'd just go get a workout in and see where the day took me after that," DeKeyser said.

"I exercised almost every day," Ericsson said. "Otherwise for me, it doesn't work. I'm not a natural skater like (Frans) Nielsen or Greener (Mike Green). They probably don't have to do anything to feel just as good."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Danny DeKeyser talks his All-Star break and getting back into game mode tomorrow night. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/QgE2ljtMxo

DeKeyser returned Sunday so he skated the last two days, but others came back Wednesday night when metro Detroit was at its coldest.

"It was different. Yesterday it was 80 when I left," Ericsson said. "It actually felt better than I expected it to. Skating I could have felt better. I always feel like someone changed the curve of my stick. But it's the same thing for everyone."

"I took four days off completely and then three days I worked out," Frk said. "Yesterday I was traveling back here so I really didn't do anything. You had to kind of move a little bit, because eight days is a long time. Especially today, practice was a little hard. Everyone was feeling it. It was tough. It should be easy to get into it and play a game tomorrow. Maybe it will be a little tough there, but I think the guys will get into it right away."

After such a long break, it wouldn't have been too surprising if practice was a little sluggish but Blashill wasn't disappointed.

"I thought the energy was great, the spirits were good," Blashill said. "Guys seemed refreshed, which is what you want to gain from the break. I'd say execution was pretty good in terms of puck skills. They're knocking some rust off. We're coming out of it and going right into back-to-back and that's what a lot of us are doing. Overall, I was happy with practice. It felt great to be back in practice, I know I was pumped up to be back in practice. That's what we all love to do and it was great to be back at it."

BERTUZZI OUT, FRK IN: Tyler Bertuzzi did not practice with his teammates Thursday as he was still suffering the effects of an upper-body injury that happened in Edmonton.

"First of all, Bert's playing real good hockey so it's unfortunate that he won't be available tomorrow or Saturday, but that's the way life goes in pro sports," Blashill said. "I moved (Justin) Abdelkader back up to that spot because I thought he had done a real good job there prior, so we'll see if we make any further adjustments as we go along here. Other guys pick up where Bert left off and I thought Bert was playing real good hockey."

With Bertuzzi out and Abdelkader returning to the top line, that opened a spot for Frk on the fourth line as he skated with Jacob de la Rose and Christoffer Ehn.

"It's been a crazy season for me," Frk acknowledged. "Most of the games, I'm in the stands. I don't even remember when I play a game the last time. It will be hard for me but I've got to try to get into it as soon as I can. It's not a great spot to be in but you gotta go battle through your challenges and just be ready to play."

Frk's last game was Dec. 31 against the Florida Panthers. He has one goal, three assists and is minus-8 in 23 games this season.

"It's hard. I don't know. I've never been in that spot, really," Frk said. "You have feelings to maybe go down and play their games, because you need stay in the game shape and it's real tough. It's my job. I gotta go stay positive. I don't want to show anyone I'm negative about it. I'm pretty much working out every day. It's kind of feel for me like summer training. You just gotta come happy, do your work and play when you get the chance. I get the chance tomorrow and I gotta do everything to show them I can play. We'll see how it goes."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "There's nothing you can do about any games that have happened prior to this. All we gotta worry about is trying to win a game against Toronto."Blashill following today's practice. The #RedWings are back in action tomorrow night against the Leafs. pic.twitter.com/EEH8zcVHNN

HRONEK AND CHOLOWSKI: Before the break, rookie defenseman Dennis Cholowski was a healthy scratch for two games while fellow rookie Filip Hronek drew into the lineup.

"I think there's multiple benefits to sitting," Blashill said. "Sometimes it really makes you dig in, makes you look in the mirror and say, 'What do I got to be better?' It's one thing for the coach to say you got to be better at this, it's another for when you get slapped a little bit. It's something I've used at different times with different players and it can be a real beneficial thing and it can be beneficial to watch the game, too, and sometimes take a breather. I think Dennis has very, very good offensive ability. I think Dennis is going to be a very good player. He's very young.

"I had lots of conversations with Dan Bylsma comparing him with (Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star) Kris Letang. He's got lots of stuff where he's going to be a real good player but it's going to take time. You got to make sure you continue to grow the defensive side of the game for sure. This is a league where you cannot outscore your mistakes. I think he's finding that out. The other unfortunate part for us is we haven't had enough times this year where we've been able to kind of use him the way we would have liked to use him. At the beginning of the year we were so short on D he got thrown into the fire and then in the middle of the year when Greener and DK (DeKeyser) went out, he got thrown into the fire. Instead of using him in that 5-6 pair and on the power play and the offensive blue line, easing his way into the National Hockey League he's been thrown into the fire too many times and all the sudden you lose a little bit of confidence."

During the break, the Wings sent Hronek back to Grand Rapids and the plan is to keep him there a while.

"We wanted to make sure Fil kept playing during the break," Blashill said. "Then we made the decision to leave him down there for now. Some of that goes into his long-term development, too. Between the guys we have here, we'd like to make sure he's running the power play. I think he's a guy who can kill penalties. He's killed for us but he hasn't killed much down there and that's a conversation I've had with their coaching staff - and he has this year but he didn't prior to this year. Hard for this to be the league you learn how to kill in. I want him to go down there and make sure he does a real good job of killing so that he brings that part to the table as a right-shot that can kill for us, he'd be a real asset but we want to make sure he's getting some of those reps down there and not necessarily up here.

"I got lots of belief in Fil long-term for us. I think in time, he can push to be a top-four type defenseman if he manages his game great, meaning he plays great defensively, hard as can be on the puck and creates offense without taking unneeded chances. That's the area he's got to make sure he does when he does go down there, play exactly how you're going to play up here. Him and I had a conversation two days ago as well, make sure you're playing exactly the same way you're playing here. You're not trying to be an offensive risk-taker. I want him to play more like Mark Giordano in Calgary, who creates tons of offense but doesn't take much risk."

On Thursday, Cholowski was paired with Ericsson and was back on the second power-play unit.

"I'm hoping those few games he sat out were great lessons for him and as I told him, play so good that you make sure it never happens again. That's the player's job. Ultimately the players dictate whether they play or don't play. There's no doubt about it, so play so good that it never happens to you again."

DALEY UPDATE: Defenseman Trevor Daley, out since Dec. 29 with a broken foot, also did not practice.

"I'd say once he skates with the team, it'll be a week," Blashill said. "I think he's a couple days from skating with the team so he's 7-10 days."

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