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Wings entertain fans at outdoor practice

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings practiced outdoors in Detroit for the first time in decades when they visited Clark Park Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROITValtteri Filppula went into Saturday’s outdoor practice with an open mind, not knowing what to assume at Clark Park, but not prejudging the experience either.

“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t even know where the rink was,” Filppula said. “But it was good to see all of the people there.”

The Wings’ outdoor practice was the first one that they’ve held in Detroit in more than eight decades, dating back to the time the Detroit Cougars would occasionally hold practices across the street from Olympia Stadium.

Saturday’s hour-long practice in the Mexicantown neighborhood of southwest Detroit was sponsored by Tim Hortons and Kroger as part of the Hockey Weekend Across America.

The Wings conducted a typical practice, though center Pavel Datsyuk and goalie Jimmy Howard did not participate. Datsyuk, who scored Friday’s game-winner with five-seconds remaining in regulation, had a sore throat and stay back at Joe Louis Arena.

“It was excellent. I thought it was really good for the crowd,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Kids seemed to have fun. For players it was fun, it was bright, it was good.”

Besides from the glare and a gusty wind, the players seemed to enjoy the experience, which for some was the first time that they’ve skated outdoors in years.

“It was a lot of fun,” forward Drew Miller said. “When the wind was at your back it was good, when it was in your face it was tough to get up the ice. But overall it was a good time, good atmosphere, a lot of fans. It’s something I hope we do every year.”

The turnout was just incredible with many fans lining up at the park’s entrance several hours before the Wings arrived on a charter bus with a four police car escort.

Brad Barron, of Lansing, was among the 100 fortunate fans who won tickets to the Tim Hortons Hot Zone which guaranteed admission to the park to watch the practice.

“This is awesome, we wish they would do it more often, and it’s something that’s well-deserved for the fans,” said Barron, 26. “It’s a little cold but we’re enjoying ourselves.”

In town for a three-game OHL weekend, the Owen Sound Attack attended the Red Wings' outdoor practice on Detroit's southwest side Saturday. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
Chris Bigris, of Elmvale, Ontario, was in the standings with his Owen Sound teammates, who are in Michigan this weekend to play three Ontario Hockey League games.

“Once in a while it’s nice to get out and see how other teams practice,” said Bigris, a defenseman. “This is exciting and it’s got to be great for the fans. We’ve not done anything like this, but it would be a great idea.

For the Wings, Saturday’s practice was just another in a long list of community events that they’ve put on this season. For the players, they enjoy making the events camaraderie builders.

“We’ve done a few of these,” Filppula said. “The season is long and you always seem to have your routines that you always do, so it’s nice to break away and do these types of events. It’s nice to change it up and do different things and it’s good for the team.

“Obviously, we spent a lot of time with the team anyways, but you do the same things and hang-out with the same groups and this way you get to spent time with the team and do something different.”

For years now, Clark Park has been run by a community coalition and operates solely by volunteers and contributions. Fans who attended Saturday’s practice were asked to donate canned goods, pre-owned hockey equipment or $2 to support the Clark Park Coalition.

Babcock wasn’t so sure that the outdoor practice would become an annual initiative.

“I don't know. You got to find a way to raise enough money to get them a new Zamboni and get it paid for first,” he said. “It's a fantasy trip we're on to think this facility is going to stay open, it's got to be funded. So let's find a way.

“It's something we should get behind and we should make sure it stays. It's a good facility. It needs a Zamboni. It needs enough funding to look after. It can be there for the community. But if you let it go, we're never getting it back.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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