DETROIT - With just seven games remaining in the regular season and nine Stanley Cup playoff spots still up for grabs, it was no surprise that the state of Detroit’s historic playoff streak was a hot topic at the Detroit Economic Club lunch Tuesday afternoon at MotorCity Casino Hotel.
“It’s hard to win a game, it’s hard to win six out of 10, it’s hard to make the playoffs,” said general manager Ken Holland. “One seeds or two seeds are going to get knocked out the first round of the playoffs. It happened last year, it’s going to happen again this year, so we’re hoping to play our way in and we’re hoping to make a little noise like we did last year.”
The event marked the ninth annual year that the Red Wings organization has met with the DEC, a non-partisan, non-profit organization formed in 1934 that is committed to the discussion and debate of important business, government and social issues in the region.
While members of the Wings’ roster mingled at tables among the nearly 800 guests, Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, addressed the crowd about the club’s immediate future.
“Certainly the last couple of weeks have been like a playoff and with seven games remaining, starting against Boston tomorrow, it’s a seven-game series to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year,” said Ilitch.
Announcers Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond paired up as the event’s masters of ceremonies. The two broadcasters introduced the entire team and staff to an applauding banquet hall, hosted a raffle featuring autographed products, and directed a question and answer session with Holland, coach Mike Babcock, forward Gustav Nyquist, defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
Not surprisingly, Nyquist was unable to evade any questions about his highlight-reel goal in Detroit’s 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay Sunday night.
“I think I just blacked out,” Nyquist said with a laugh. “I remember my first goal when Bert (Todd Bertuzzi) made a nice play to Pavel (Datsyuk) who spun around somehow, spun around and passed behind his back and that’s something I’ll always remember because it was my first goal. But this one, that was probably one of the best ones, probably.”
The NHL’s second Star of the Month in March, Nyquist is just one of 13 players from the 2013 Calder Cup championship team to dress for at least one game with the Wings this season. While the club has suffered an abundance of injuries to key players, the youngsters have played an important role in helping Detroit maintain a position in the tight playoff race.
“This is our opportunity, this is our chance, these kids worked hard, our veterans have worked hard to keep them stable,” said Babcock. “We have an opportunity. Let’s embrace this one and keep playing. I like our group.”
Although a lot of attention has been placed on the team’s young players, Holland was quick to point out the value of several veterans who have helped the prospects develop into solid NHL players.
“I thought the leadership of Kronner and Jimmy Howard and some of the vets along with obviously playing with a lot of young kids, everybody’s stepped up and pitched in and played some good hockey and we have a good opportunity over the next seven games to make our way into the playoffs,” said Holland.
But it wasn’t all about business. As the question and answer session expanded to include all of the Wings players, guests enjoyed a few laughs as they heard about the team’s March Madness favorites, which player is most likely to be caught on his cell phone and who usually wins the fantasy football pool.
“Pavel has won my pool before, he always says, ‘Why, why do I pay this money?’ and he ends up winning,” forward Daniel Cleary said, drawing several laughs throughout the crowd. “I think it’s an important thing for teams to do, to have that camaraderie on your team, get the guys together with a little bit of banter.”
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