The Red Wings kicked off the 2008-09 season with a multitude of community events throughout the past week. Thousands of fans had the chance to interact with members of the team throughout the state as the Wings prepare to defend their Stanley Cup championship.
The drive to training camp in Traverse City on September 18 had several detours for eight members of the team as they took part in a mini-tour of Michigan.
Heading up the east side of the state, Dan Cleary, Kris Draper, Brett Lebda, and Chris Osgood, shared the Stanley Cup with fans in Mt. Clemens, Saginaw and Gaylord.
The first stop of the day was at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens. With an impressive oversized American flag as the backdrop and a KC-135 Stratotanker and an F-16 Fighting Falcon parked on the tarmac outside, Brigadier General Michael Peplinski, Commander, 127th Wing, opened the program with a warm welcome to both the ‘Hockeytown Heroes’ and ‘Hometown Heroes.’ Cleary, Draper, Lebda, and Osgood entertained the crowd during the question and answer portion of the program and then joined the nearly 300 reservists and active military personnel masses on the floor to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“Being an American, this is an amazing experience for me,” said Lebda. “I’m so glad to be a part of it.”
Representatives at Selfridge were thrilled about the opportunity. “What a wonderful way for our local hockey heroes to pay tribute to the men and women who serve this state and our nation,” said Public Affairs Officer Captain Penelope Carroll. “Thank you very much for coming to Selfridge.”
From Selfridge, the group traveled to Saginaw to visit White Pine Middle School where more than 1,300 students, faculty and staff donned their red and white and packed the school’s gymnasium anxiously awaiting a glimpse of the Red Wings and the Stanley Cup. Upon the players’ introductions, the gym exploded in screams and applause. In response to the reaction, Draper joked, “Wow, what a reception. Now I know what it feels like to be the Jonas Brothers.”
Cleary, Draper, Lebda, and Osgood answered questions from the students discussing their own middle school experiences, personal nutrition plans and opinions on the perceived difficulty to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions in 2009. The players then took time for some group photographs with each grade and, of course, the Stanley Cup.
“White Pine was honored to host the Red Wings’ players and Stanley Cup,” said White Pine Principal Bonnie Eaves. “The anticipation and excitement of this visit will be long remembered by students and staff.”
The final stop on the eastern trip was the Otsego County Sportsplex in the Northern Michigan community of Gaylord. For a donation to the Gaylord High School Hockey Association, fans were able to have their picture taken with the Stanley Cup.
With a substantial line of fans waiting for the Cup to arrive, nearly 200 photos were taken. An estimated $2,500 was raised through donations and the purchase of photos.
“I’ve been here since 12:45 this afternoon,” said Pam Courtright, a fan in attendance. “I wanted to be sure I was here early.”
Fans in attendance at the Otsego County Sportsplex who would like to view the online photos, can visit to www.photoreflect.com.
As the Northern Americans traveled through the eastern portion of the state, a European contingency made its way through the West.Valtteri Filppula
, Niklas Kronwall
, Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Zetterberg
stopped in Lansing and Grand Rapids to visit with two very special groups.
The first stop was the State National Guard Headquarters in Lansing where the players were greeted by members of the military – both active and reserve. After being presented with National Guard hats and T-shirts, and a brief question and answer session, the players signed hundreds of autographs and posed for photos.
The most touching moment of the morning came when the family of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kristopher Rodgers, 29, from Sturgis who was killed in action on August 16, 2008 in Afghanistan, met the players. With his son, Kaden, holding a photo of he and his dad in Wings jerseys, wife Serena and other family members attending, the players paused to speak to the family, pose for pictures and sign autographs. Although they were not born American citizens, all four players were noticeably affected by the experience.
“That part of the day was very special,” said Finland’s Filppula. “To know what this family has gone through is tough, so I hope we gave them some happiness even if it was just for a few minutes.”
From Lansing it was on to Grand Rapids where the group visited Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. With children waiting in one of the playrooms, the players took seats in mini chairs at a child-sized table to meet some of their youngest fans. After visiting with the children, the group split up and traveled to patient rooms to spend time with kids and their families who were unable to join them in the playroom. Handing out stickers, pencils, posters and T-shirts, the players met with patients battling cancer, those preparing for and recovering from bone marrow transplants, children in the Intensive Care Unit and a multitude of other conditions.
“To see what these kids and their families are going through is heartbreaking,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall
. “They are all so upbeat and positive. They were thanking me for visiting them, but it’s me who should be thanking them for reminding me how lucky I am.”
After making its way to Traverse City, the teams appreciation for community continued with the 10th Annual Training Camp Golf Outing on Friday, September 19 at the Grand Traverse Resort. This years event was one of the most successful in its decade-long history, raising more than $110,000 for I.C.E. (Involved Citizens Enterprises).
“The support we continue to receive in Traverse City and throughout the entire state is overwhelming,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager Ken Holland. “The whole community rolls out the red carpet for us every year, and taking a day to give back to the community is a great way for us to kick-off our season.”
All foursomes were paired with a Red Wings player or staff member with over 200 golfers taking part in the outing. Matt McBride of Fr. Myers, FLA made a hole-in-one on the Wolverine Hole 12. McBride won a 2-year lease on an Audi A5 generously donated by Eitel Dahm of Eitel Dahm Motor Group, the title sponsor of the event for the 10th consecutive year.
More than 600 guests attended the charity dinner which included a live auction that featured a road trip with the team. The bidding for this item reached a total of $40,000 as two fans and a guest will join the Wings on Red Bird II for three pre-season contests.
In addition to the live auction, the dinner included player antidotes from their time with the Stanley Cup over the summer as well as a question and answer session with Holland and Head Coach Mike Babcock. The Stanley Cup appeared at both the outing and dinner giving hundreds of fans the opportunity to have a photo with hockey’s top trophy.
After the golf outing, the Cup traveled to East Lansing where it appeared at Spartan Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University. Prior to the Spartan’s game against Notre Dame fans lined up for the chance to have a photograph with Lord Stanley in exchange for a donation to Michigan State’s “Shoot for a Cure” initiative which benefits Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital Cure Kids Cancer. Shoot for a Cure was started by Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader
who played at Michigan State before signing with the Wings last April. The pictures with the Cup and the generosity of Spartan fans resulted in more than $2,500 to assist children battling cancer.
The rabid support of the team continued during training camp at Centre I.C.E. Arena. With camp shortened to just four days, the demand for tickets to all on-ice practice sessions and games reached an all-time high, with more than 7,000 people jamming the rink and hundreds of others waiting outside for autographs from the Wings.
“I thought it was our best camp,” said Training Camp Director Pete Correia. “The demand was so high this year and I think there are two reasons for that. Winning the Stanley Cup is a big plus and seeing some of new faces is always intriguing.”
With the pre-season in full swing, the new season has officially arrived and the Wings are ready, on and off the ice.