ROYAL OAK, Mich. — Samuel James had waited in line for almost an hour standing outside of the Kroger in suburban Detroit, where Red Wings forwards Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco met fans and signed autographs to raise money for The Salvation Army Red Kettle drive.
James, an avid Wings fan, had something burning a hole in his coat pocket on Friday night as he and his girlfriend Kirstin Munsch moved to the front of the line.
It wasn’t a picture with Tatar or an autograph from Jurco, it was a simple question for Munsch.
“I just figured it’d be a good time for a surprise,” said James after proposing to his girlfriend in front of the Wings and other fans in line that day.
In a spur of the moment effort, James left work early, bought a Tatar jersey, went to the jewelry store, purchased a ring and then went straight to Kroger and got in line, just to hear his now-fiancé say ‘yes’.
“It’s something special,” Tatar said of the rare moment he got to witness. “I hope they will be happy together. I’m glad I could help this way.”
The couple included Wings players in their big moment and the privilege was not lost on the young Tatar and Jurco.
“It’s a little surprising,” Tatar said. “But I think it’s good and they’re connected together. I’m for it for sure.”
The Slovakian duo was one of four Wings combinations spread throughout the Detroit area ringing bells to help raise support for the Red Kettle drive. Coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland were stationed at their usual holiday post at Hiller’s Market in Northville, while Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm were stationed in front of Hockytown Authentics in Troy, and Luke Glendening and Riley Sheahan at the Kroger in Farmington.
The Wings partnered with The Salvation Army for a ninth season, competing in the fundraiser to see who could raise the most money during the two-hour event. The combination of Babcock and Holland had a big target on their backs having been champions in seven out of the last eight years. First-time participant Tatar had his sights set on taking down the champs.
“Oh yeah, you saw me,” he said. “I’m on a roll right now.”
Tatar and his countryman Jurco's efforts were noble, but they came up short as Babcock and Holland successfully defended their bell ringing title raising almost $9,000 on Friday night. The Red Wings for Red Kettles initiative has raised more than $100,000 for The Salvation Army since 2005, and is a fun and interactive way for the Wings to compete for a year of bragging rights.
The average red kettle collects $200 in donations each day and the donations collected by the four pairings in just two hours on Friday was the equivalent of 90 days of bell ringing. The team will hold four Red Kettle Nights this month at Wings home games on Dec. 10, 12, 16 and 19.