RALEIGH, N.C. – Five Red Wings will complete their perfect attendance records in tonight’s regular-season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, and Drew Miller – who is the team’s current ironman – will play for the 82nd time this season.
“It feels good to me to be able to play in all of the games,” Ericsson said. “I just said it the other day too that I was going to play in all 82 games this year and that’s never happened, so I’m really happy about that.”
It’s the first time in 34 seasons that five or more Wings have played a full season, equaling the feat of the 1979-80 squad when Dale McCourt, Mike Foligno, Pete Mahovlich, Reed Larson and Barry Long played the full 80 schedule.
It’s a meaningful accomplishment considering only 49 Red Wings have played at least one full season of 80-plus contests since 1974-75.
Last season the Wings were mired by injuries. Only Miller and defenseman Kyle Quincey appear in all 82 games then. But health has been a key reason for the club’s turnaround a season later. By remaining relatively healthy, the Wings were able to create some distance in the Atlantic Division standings during January and February.
However, it wasn’t until recently that Detroit began suffering injuries that have caused some instability in the lineup. Injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Erik Cole – and not having Johan Franzen since early January – led to a downward spiral resulting in 6-10-4 record since early March.
“Obviously in this league, the more injuries you have, the harder it gets,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Our lineup’s been beat up the last while. It’s way harder to win when you’re beat up. Lots of times guys are injured and they keep playing. That’s just part of the business. You’ve got to fight your way through it and we’ve been able to do that.”
Detroit will finish this season with 228 man games lost – that’s a decrease of 45 percent from last season when 421 man games were lost. The Wings needed to scramble to make the playoffs as key contributors like Datsyuk, Ericsson, Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson all missed significant time.
Unfortunately, the stretch run this month has been equally unnerving.
“Last year was probably the toughest year on the roster with those guys’ injuries left and right,” Tatar said. “Finally when we’d get it going somebody would go out at the worst time. Pav and Z were out together. Mule goes out, then Alfie. It wasn’t easy for us what we went through. I think last year’s actually been lots of injuries so this year we were fortunate that we get healthy the whole year and knock on wood we will stay in playoffs healthy too. Guys are just trying to get the energy. We can save some and make sure we are ready for the playoffs.”
Tatar says he’s fortunate when it comes to injuries. He hasn’t had anything serious enough to hold him out of the lineup since he first turned pro with the Wings’ AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.
“So far I’m getting lucky that I didn’t have any injury,” Tatar said. “I missed only games when I (was) called up and I played games with this team. Last year, I might have played all 82 if I didn’t get healthy scratches at the start. I played every game since I got here. I missed a few games because I went to word juniors, but that’s pretty much it. So far I’ve been lucky, staying healthy and feeling really happy about it.”
Glendening is no stranger to setting perfect attendance marks either. He finished his collegiate career at the University of Michigan by playing in 154 consecutive games for the Wolverines. It’s a virtue that was indoctrinated at home during his childhood.
“It’s something that my parents instilled in me,” Glendening said. “There wasn’t any faking sick days, that’s for sure. If you were sick you were sick, but you weren’t doing any sports or anything like that. So that kind of always kept me in school because I knew I couldn’t play sports after (school) if I stayed home sick. That kind of stuff has stuck with me.
“I just try to show up every day. I know I’m fighting for a job every single day and I was in college and continued when my pro career started. It continues today. I show up and try to put my best foot forward every day.”
Fourth-liner players like Glendening and Miller aren’t expected to play full, injury-free seasons, certainly not with the kind of grinding style they’re expected to play.
“Also when you get a skate in your face and you get 50-60 stitches and you play the next game,” Zetterberg said of Miller, who will play in his 164th straight game tonight, the sixth since he was accidentally hit in the face by a skate blade.
Miller wanted to reenter the game against Ottawa when he was horribly injured March 31. His selfless courage though excited teammates.
“It tells a lot about (his) character,” Zetterberg said. “It’s impressive to see, especially where we were at that time. Ottawa was winning, Boston was winning. It was really tight. Pavel was out and Miller comes back right after that, it shows a lot and gives a big boast to everyone.”
So much goes into navigating a full season without sitting out games with injuries. First and foremost, strength, conditioning, eating habits and rest all play vital roles in a player’s health.
However, for young players, getting used to the grind of a long season takes something else – time.
“In my first couple of years we made the playoffs in February, so it was different,” Zetterberg said. “But my second year I hit the wall. My first year I basically hit the wall, too. It takes a while to get used to it but all you can do is play games. You’ve got to find your own way to get ready and get prepared. You’ve got to know your body and you’ve got to take the rest when you need it, you’ve got to work harder when you need to work harder. The only way you learn that is by getting experience.”