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Notes: Wings enjoying last days at Joe Louis Arena

Andreas Athanasiou questionable for weekend games; Team plans to call up Matt Lorito

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - It's starting to hit the Red Wings now that they're experiencing things for the last time at Joe Louis Arena.

Thursday marked the team's last full practice there. Friday is an optional, Saturday is the last morning skate and there is no skate Sunday.

"Little weird feeling here today knowing that this is our last full skate," Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We will have a morning skate on Saturday but full practice, last at the Joe, so it's a little strange. But in the same way, got to enjoy it. Thought it was a good skate. Now we have two days here and then we're going to finish off with a fun weekend."

Said Niklas Kronwall: "It feels a little surreal to be honest with you. It's been our home for a few years now. It's hard to even take in that we're not going to be here after these last two games."

Justin Abdelkader said he's caught himself looking around, trying to take it all in and preserve in the memory bank.

"You enjoy the walk into the rink," Abdelkader said. "It has a certain smell. I can't put a finger on what that is yet, still working on that. Just little things, this has been a place where I've kind of grown up. I've grown through my NHL career and I've had a lot of really good moments in here. It'll be missed, but we're looking forward to the new building."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he often takes a moment after the national anthem to look up to the rafters at all the banners.

"It's an unreal piece of history to be a part of," Blashill said. "The building has meant so much to the state, to the City of Detroit, certainly to the Red Wing organization. We'll certainly cherish these last few days."

MILESTONE FOR ZETTERBERG: Barring unforeseen circumstances, Sunday will not only mark the last Wings game at Joe Louis Arena, but also Zetterberg's 1,000th career game.

"It's either going to be my 1,000th or my 999th," Zetterberg said. "We're not there yet. If everything goes as planned, obviously I couldn't have picked a better game to have my 1,000th. It's going to be a special night in many ways."

Zetterberg's teammates said the coincidence is appropriate.

"That's awesome," Abdelkader said. "You couldn't write a better script for that. The success he's had at the Joe, how special of a building it has been for him and how important he's been for the team. I think it's only fitting."

"Everything just comes full circle, to even draw that up I don't think you ever imagine it coming to an end like that," Kronwall said.

ATHANASIOU QUESTIONABLE: When Andreas Athanasiou scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Carolina on March 27, he was cross-checked by Victor Rask and missed the following game.

Although Athanasiou has played in the last four games, he still has not recovered from the incident and missed practice Thursday.

"He's day to day right now so I can't tell you whether he'll be available for Saturday," Blashill said.

Blashill said the team would recall Matt Lorito from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"I think he's averaging a point a game in the American League. He's been out for a little bit so we were kind of waiting for him to get back to being healthy and give him a chance to seize it. He's had two real good years in the American League. Our pro scouts really liked him when we signed him this summer. He's got the potential to be an NHL player. He's smallish, but he's got lots of skill, so it'll be interesting to see what he does."

Lorito, who is 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, has 21 goals and 33 assists in 59 games with the Griffins. He missed three games in late March with an upper-body injury.

If Lorito does play, he will join Tyler Bertuzzi, Jared Coreau, Nick Jensen, Robbie Russo, Dan Renouf and Evgeny Svechnikov as players who have made their NHL debut this season.

Blashill said Svechnikov, who played both games against the Ottawa Senators, is better off remaining with the Griffins as they make their final push to the playoffs.

"That's a big part of the development is going down there and being a huge piece of them finishing strong and having a great playoff run," Blashill said. "We think it's helped lots of these guys that are in this room now, having done similar things in Grand Rapids. To be a go-to guy is an extremely important thing for a player's development and I thought Svech played real well in the two games he played here. He's got the potential to be a good NHL player. Now he needs to go down there and continue the development process."

KEEPING THE CULTURE: When it became obvious that the Wings were not going to make the playoffs, Blashill spoke about the team maintaining the culture and work ethic that had been long established.

Although the Wings have not won every game, that hasn't been due to lack of effort.

"You can't take your foot off the gas," Blashill said. "If you do, you lose it for 10 years. We want to make sure we're not in this spot a year from now. In order to give ourselves the best chance to not be in this spot a year from now is to make sure we keep the culture up. Obviously, guys have taken that lead from Hank and from the other leaders, but we've got great character through the locker room, they've done a great job with that."

Zetterberg said he is not surprised that everyone is still playing just as hard.

"We're in the situation we are but we're not happy about it," Zetterberg said. "We still want to go out and perform and play good in front of our fans. The last 15 games or so I thought we've been playing well. We've been coming out, having good starts. It hasn't been perfect all games but we've been working hard."

Abdelkader said Zetterberg sets the tone with his example and leadership.

"He's been great all year," Abdelkader said. "I think guys have really dug in through some tough times. It's never easy to play games when you know you're eliminated, but at the same time you're playing for the jersey and the pride of the organization. You're constantly fighting for jobs in this league. It's an everyday league. It's not what you did yesterday, it's what you did today. Guys are constantly going out and battling and working as hard as they could."

Ultimately, Kronwall said it's what they owe to the city of Detroit and the fans.

"It's about trying to do it right and really play with pride wearing the Red Wing wheel," Kronwall said. "So that pride our fans deserve. Our fans deserve better than to watch the last game here to be a regular season game, but in saying that it is what it is. We owe our fans a ton and the least we can do is give them a great effort Saturday and Sunday."

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