– Just outside the door to the Red Wings dressing room at the Scotiabank Saddledome dozens of titanium hockey sticks lined the white cinder-block wall. On the opposite wall an extraneous item is propped up near the door jam.
It’s not a vital piece of equipment. In fact, it’s easily overlooked. It won’t win or lose a game for the Red Wings, but the players never leave home without it.
It’s a shovel with the remains of a hockey stick as a handle. The Wings use the digging tool as a validation award given to a player by his peers for an outstanding effort during a team win this season.
“When you associate a shovel you think about putting your work boots on and getting out there and digging as deep as you can,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “You give it to someone who really dug in and played a hard-nosed game and did the little things well. So that’s how it all came about.”
These days, most teams in the league have some sort of post-game player award, which is used to validate a player’s performance after each win. Whether it’s a championship belt or a sledge hammer, work boots or a firefighter’s helmet, players use these novelties with team building and camaraderie in mind.
The Wings’ gun-metal shovel with its slightly curved scoop, upturned edges and pointed tip was used during the ceremonial groundbreaking at the new event center site on Woodward Avenue.
The idea was the brainchild of coach Mike Babcock, who is often coming up with different motivational ideas for a team that has a fair mix of older and younger players.
“It’s a new thing and I think it’s been good,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “During a win you kind of want to give someone some extra credit for having a good game. The shovel goes around and it’s just a good way to kind of end off a good night after a win. There’s a lot of energy in the room and just have turned it into a fun thing and point out a few players who were real successful that night. It gives them a little confidence boost.”
Following each win – and the Wings compiled 27 victories prior to this weekend’s All-Star Game weekend – the players head to the locker room for a short presentation.
“After the game, the guy who had it last game gives it out to the next guy,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who gave an old stick to use as the shovel’s handle. “We get into the room, turn the music off once everybody’s in, and the guy who had it says a few words and gives it to the guy who he feels deserves it.”
The idea resonates well with the players, particularly the young guys.
“It’s just fun for the guys,” center Luke Glendening said. “Obviously, some nights there’s 10 guys who deserve it, some nights there aren’t. Obviously, a win is a win and we’re happy to get it, but it’s always fun to be recognized.”
Post-game conformation from teammates is nothing new to Wings who have spent any amount of time in Grand Rapids in recent years, where Griffins coach Jeff Blashill introduced them to game pucks, which he distributes to hard workers.
Smith first experienced being singled out for his exemplary play as an amateur player at Toronto St. Michael’s and then at the University of Wisconsin.
“We did something very similar at Wisconsin,” Smith said. “We had a chain where you attached a link to a chain with every game that we won. It was pretty cool. There are little things like that that are awesome. When I was at St. Mike’s we did a hard hat. It’s the same idea as the shovel, right, where you’re going to work with that working mentality. So I’ve been on other teams where we’ve done that and it’s great in bringing the guys together.”
By taking a moment in the locker room to enjoy each win the players have found a fun way to show support for one another.
“You want to be able to celebrate with the boys and that’s another way to celebrate and kind of give credit to someone for having a great game,” Smith said. “Maybe Zetterberg was the best player on the ice, but you know I thought someone played up and beyond their skill. It’s pretty cool to have that because in a room where everybody is battling – and we’re all buddies – it’s good to give somebody some of that positive feedback.”