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Players take advantage of five-day break

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings had plenty to celebrate in the first half of the season. Many of the players plan to relax over the five-day break before taking on the second half of the season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – Christmas comes the same time every year, but this week’s All-Star break brings with it a bigger gift – extended down time for some much needed R&R.

“With Christmas there’s so much other stuff that you have to consider,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “You have to try and chase to get presents and everything. Then there’s going to be dinners and you have family in, so there’s really no relaxing time.

“Now it’s more about getting relaxed and getting recharged.”

This year is the first time since 2011-12 that the league is hosting an All-Star Game. The NHL lockout and the Sochi Olympics put the midseason exhibition on hiatus for the past two seasons.

Beginning Wednesday, the Wings’ players have five days to spend a way from the rink. They’re expected back Monday for practice before the team travels to south Florida for Tuesday’s game against the Panthers.

Without a player representative heading to the midseason All-Star Game in Columbus – Jimmy Howard was picked to play before his groin injury – most Wings’ players plan to pursue warm-weather destinations like Florida, Mexico, Turks and Caicos, and the British Virgin Islands.

“It’ll be nice for 4-5 days,” said forward Justin Abdelkader, who is heading for the oasis of tranquility. “Going down to Peter Island, it’s in the British Virgin Islands. Come back and go right back to Florida. So I guess we’ll get our Vitamin D in. No excuse there.”

Darren Helm plans to take his daughter to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Helm said. “It’ll be nice to see a little bit more sun, get some shorts on, go down by the pool and relax for a little bit. It’s always nice to get a little bit of time off. We’ve had such a busy schedule and so many late nights it will be nice to kind of just relax a little bit, spend some time with the family, gain some energy that’s been kind of draining over the last couple of games and get ready for the last stretch.”

Originally, the Red Wings had scheduled Wednesday as a practice day, but the coaching staff reconsidered, giving the players an extra off day, perhaps as a reward for their remarkable work during the first half of the season.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” Abdelkader said. “A couple years ago we got stuck with playing on the last day, I think we were the only (game), it’s kind of tough because you know everyone is on break and you’re still playing. You don’t get that extra day. But the extra day is huge. As you go throughout the season I think anytime you can get some days off, especially late in the season, it’s crucial.”

The Red Wings have certainly earned their time off. They have picked up 61 points in the first 46 games. That’s 11 more points than what they had through 46 games last season.

“I think it’s been pretty decent,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I thought we lost our energy there for a little bit right before Christmas when we had that home stand and lost a few games. But I think after Christmas, after that first game in Ottawa, it feels like we’ve been getting some energy back and playing some decent hockey.”

Since the Christmas break, the Red Wings have been one of the hottest teams in the league, registering an 8-3-0 record while moving up from fifth to third place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind the New York Islanders and one behind Tampa Bay.

A key area for the team’s resurgence this season has definitely been health related. Prior to Tuesday’s home game against Minnesota, the Red Wings had 111 man games lost – that’s whopping 84 games fewer than last season at this time.

“Everyone’s been healthy and we’ve been playing well, so it’s not a huge surprise,” Helm said. “It’s hard work but it’s paid off.”

Still, going somewhere warm can only help those with bumps and bruises.

“All the guys are looking forward to it whether their going somewhere nice and warm or whatever,” said center Riley Sheahan, who is going to Cancun, Mexico. “I just think the biggest thing is having the break mentally and resting your building because I know a lot of guys are banged up.”

Two guys who were unsure of their plans for this week were forward Teemu Pulkkinen and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Both rookies were invited to participate in the American Hockey League’s All-Star Game, which is Monday in Utica, N.Y.

However, the Red Wings only plan to send Pulkkinen to the game, while giving Ouellet time to relax.

“It’s been a grind,” said Ouellet, who has a goal and two points in 18 games with the Wings this season. “You got to take care of your body. If they want me to play, I’m going to play and take care of my body that way. And if they give me a break, then good, I’m going to take it and rest and make sure I’m ready to compete.”

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