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Wings ring in holidays for good cause

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Coach Mike Babcock (above) and general manager Ken Holland met fans and signed autographs Friday afternoon for The Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle campaign. (Photo by Kevin T. Wilson/Detroit Red Wings)

NORTHVILLE, Mich. – The sweet, familiar sound of The Salvation Army bells and holiday music filled the air Friday night while customers bustled in and out of Hiller’s Market in Northville.

But the line to give donations to the charity was unusually long, as coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland teamed up to ring bells for the annual Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign.

“Salvation Army is obviously an organization that’s supported people in need and local community maybe 100 years or more,” Holland said. “A great organization, great people and we just felt that after the first year or two that it’s something we wanted to do year after year after year because it helps create awareness, there’s a lot of people in need especially in our community. It’s always nice to be able to get back.”

There wasn’t a shortage of Red Wings’ fans on hand to meet and greet Holland and Babcock and receive their autographs stretched outside the supermarket.

Dearborn, Mich., resident Mohammad Qazzaz held on to a hefty Stanley Cup replica in the chilly air, and Babcock was more than happy to add his autograph next to the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard.

“The great thing about them, once you won it, you’re allowed to touch them,” Babcock said with a smile.

Brian McLean and his daughter, Cassidy, drove all the way from Flint in Michigan’s thumb region, to meet the coach and GM, and brought a few items along for the ride, including a rare game-used hockey stick.

“These guys are kind of tough to find to get signatures from so to have them two together, this is awesome,” McLean said. “It’s definitely fun for her.

“I got a game-used Ken Holland stick, and he’s only played a few years.”

Holland chatted with the father and daughter and held the old stick in his hands one more time before the McLeans said a quick goodbye, “Off to Kroger!”

Next on their list of stops was Kroger in Farmington Hills, Mich., where goalie Jonas Gustavsson and center Stephen Weiss were stationed as part of the Red Wings for Red Kettles initiative. Altogether, four pairs of Red Wings, including forwards Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Gustav Nyquist and defenseman Brendan Smith, took part in the annual partnership to see which duo could raise the most money for the campaign.

“We’re real fortunate with the Red Wings, things are going pretty good for us and things not as easy for some families in Detroit,” Babcock said. “The Red Kettle does a lot and supports who we give back to. It’s fun for us to be involved in the community, this is right downtown in our community where we live and I get my groceries here so it’s great to run into the people here.”

The team’s initiative has raised nearly $70,000 for The Salvation Army since 2005, and is a fun and interactive way for the Red Wings to compete for a year of bragging rights. But no matter how many autographs the players sign, Holland and Babcock repeat as champions year after year.

“Well, we do pretty good,” Holland laughed. “Mike and I, I don’t know, somehow, somebody must be stuffing the little box.”

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