– Sherri Rhodes and Julie Steinhebel were just two diehard Red Wings’ fans who were flabbergasted by what they saw as they walked into work Monday morning.
“This is cool!” proclaimed Rhodes, as she shook hands with a trio of Wings players as they welcomed employees to the start of the work week at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
headquarters in downtown Detroit.
For an hour Monday, forwards Tomas Holmstrom
, Drew Miller
and Fabian Brunnstrom
were stationed inside the lobby of the BCBS offices, which is home to nearly 3,100 employees for the health-insurer, which is one of the largest employers in downtown Detroit. The players distributed hundreds of pocket schedules, signed some autographs and posed for a few photos with the employees as they arrived to work. In return, the players received plenty of well-wishes from their fans, who were obviously pleased to see their Hockeytown Heroes in-person.
The players’ appearance, which was not pre-promoted to the employees, was done in conjunction with the Wings’ two-day initiative called ‘Hockeytown Thanks’ to spread goodwill throughout the community; and to say ‘Thank You’ to their business partners in southeastern Michigan.
Over the next two days, the Wings will dispatch 20 different players to nine businesses in metro Detroit, including a visit by Nicklas Lidstrom
and Valtteri Filppula
to a Little Caesars
store in Plymouth, where the two will try their hand at making pizzas.
“I don’t think it’s anything that I’ve ever done outside of the house,” said Lidstrom, when asked about making pizzas. “I have put some stuff on top of pizzas, but I haven’t actually made the dough yet.”
The other Wings will be in the community doing their part from bagging groceries to doing oil-changes to working the drive-thru window at a local Tim Hortons.
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“I like the looks of (cars), but I don’t know the first things about them like changing the oil,” said Jimmy Howard
, who will be with Johan Franzen
at a Dodge dealership in Highland. “But the fans are always so great to us, so for us to go out into the community and give back and reach-out is good for us.”Jakub Kindl
will be with fellow defenseman Ian White
and rookie forward Cory Emmerton
at a local Kroger
, where the three may bag groceries as part of their hour-long visit.
“I’ve never bagged groceries, but it’s going to be fun, something different. Switch it out,” Kindl said.
For Mike Babcock, the Red Wings’ civic-minded coach, seeing the players helping out in the community is a win-win situation for everyone.
“Obviously, it’s great when our guys get out there, and people like to see them, and that’s a positive thing,” Babcock said. “It’s always nice to be involved in the community, period.”
And for BCBS employees like Steinhebel, who works in the Employee Services Department, the tour stop worked wonderfully, though she almost missed it.
“I got here at quarter to seven when people began coming in saying, ‘There’s Red Wings downstairs in the lobby!’ Steinhebel said. “I right away ran down, because I’m a big Red Wings’ fan.”
Even though she’s a big fan, nerves nearly got the best of Steinhebel, who needed coaxing from a friend to approach her favorite Wings’ player. But after she was reminded that this could be her one and only opportunity to get a picture taken with Holmstrom, Steinhebel set aside what nervousness remained and approached the Swedish forward.
“I just wish I would have known. I would have brought my Holmstrom jersey,” she said. “I think he’s a great player. I think he has a great personality and he’s a team leader.”
The visit to BCBS was equally as fun for the players, Brunnstrom said.
“It was something different that I’ve never done before,” he said. “It’s always fun to see surprised, happy faces.”
The morning visit by the players is an astounding gesture on the part of the Wings’ organization, said Andy Hetzel, BCBS vice president of corporate communications.
“I think the surprise aspect of this is tremendous for our employees,” said Hetzel, who grew-up a fan of the Buffalo Sabres, but converted in 1995. “We didn’t pre-promote this to our employees, and I think it’s showing that people are generally surprised by these players being in their workplace. And it’s tremendous on the part of the Red Wings to extend this into the community to keep business partners in the community, and to show that they care about the citizens of Hockeytown. That’s what this is all about – the connection between the players and the fans.”
And based on the hundreds of employees, who walked into the lobby with their surprised looks and bright smiles, the Wings’ unannounced visit was a resounding success.
“I love the Red Wings!” said Rhodes, who works in the Human Performance Department. “This is a very big surprise to everybody. Usually they’ll email us when there’s some kind of entertainment coming. … But this is awesome!”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill