DETROIT – More than 700 season-ticket holders gathered to watch the Red Wings’ open practice Thursday, though one person definitely stood out in the crowd at Joe Louis Arena.
Green Bay Packers lineman T.J. Lang, who grew up in Oakland County, visited with some of the players after practice. The 6-foot-4, 318-pound offensive guard has gotten to know some of the Wings’ players either through workouts at Barwis Methods Training Center or through mutual friends.
While his four-year-old son used a yellow softball to fire shots on Luke Glendening in the dressing room, Lang talked with several players that he works out with during his off-season, including Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin and Brendan Smith.
“I work out at the same gym with Luke, Dylan’s over there, and I met Brendan through a Wisconsin connect,” Lang said. “He was at Wisconsin and played there and is a big Packers fan, so with me being a big Red Wings fan our paths just crossed and became friends. A couple other guys I’ve met throughout the years and try to keep in touch as much as I can.”
Lang, who has a Super Bowl ring from the Packers’ championship in 2010, spends about six weeks of the NFL off-season in metro Detroit before heading back to Green Bay to begin preparations for the upcoming season.
A huge Wings fan growing, Lang soaked up the tradition of the room once occupied by some of the players he once idolized. It was a powerful moment for the 28-year-old who likened his visit to that of a football fan getting a chance to experience the Packers’ locker room at Lambeau Field.
“Yeah, this is a special place to be,” Lang said. “People come to Green Bay and take tours of the locker room and you look at the pictures of guys who have played here before and it just kind of gives you chills, just the greats who have been through this locker room and are still in this locker room. They just have an achievement of greatness for so long and being able to watch them and rooting for them and now having the opportunity to knowing some of the guys it’s such a great team to cheer for and it’s definitely a very special building.”
Lang liked watching hall of famers Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov for their scoring and play-making abilities but he always had a fond appreciation for the fighters.
“I was a big fan of the tough guys, Probert, Kocur, McCarty, kind of liked those guys a little more because of the dirty work that they,” Lang said.
With a massive body build to be an interior lineman, Lang never played ice hockey, though he did give roller hockey a try as a youngster. A 2005 graduate of Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Lang played collegiately at Eastern Michigan University and was selected by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL draft.
As someone who plays a professional sport, Lang fully understands the complexities of making playoff runs. He’s been to the NFL postseason in each of his seven pro seasons. So he of anyone gets just how astonishing is that the Red Wings are trying to make it to the playoffs for a 25th straight season.
“It seems the past couple of years they’ve been in the same spot, kind of right on the borderline in and out and they always find a way to pull through,” Lang said. “I guess it’s just the tradition that they have around here, the expectations. In Green Bay we talk about the same things. Our goal isn’t just to make the playoffs; our goal is to win championships. You look around here and the banners are all for championships. That’s their goal and their expectations. They’ve set the bar high and they’ve had an impressive run for the last 25 years. … From the top down, it’s just one of the best organizations in sports.”
Since he’s come to know some of the guys through their workout routines, Lang was asked which of Detroit’s players could he see transitioning to football.
The Green Bay lineman didn’t have to give it much thought.
“I gotta tell you, Luke’s a guy who’s scrappy, man,” Lang said. “He’s strong in the weight room, he’ll surprise you. He’s probably one of the more athletic guys that I’ve seen. His work ethic, I mean, he’s just a gym rat; he’s always in the gym. It doesn’t matter what time it is he’s always there, so he’s a guy that you see his success translate over the ice and it’s no surprise when you see the guy work out.”