DETROIT – The Red Wings left the comfy confines of Joe Louis Arena for the chilly surroundings of Comerica Park where they used Wednesday’s practice as a precursor for the 2014 Winter Classic that will take place at Michigan Stadium in two weeks.
“I think this is the perfect thing for us to do today, come out and skate here,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “A lot of guys haven’t skated outdoors in this type of venue. … Once you get going it’s not as cold out there but it was fun. Anytime you get to play outdoors it brings back a lot of memories as a kid, even back to Chicago."
Cleary is one of four Red Wings who practiced at Comerica and played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The others are Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Mikael Samuelsson. Captain Henrik Zetterberg (lower back) and forward Johan Franzen (concussion) played in the Wings’ 6-4 win over the Blackhawks on Jan. 1, 2009, though they did not skate Wednesday.
The Red Wings lost their fifth straight home game Tuesday with a 5-2 loss to Anaheim. Detroit is now winless in six consecutive games (0-4-2) and has the Calgary Flames coming to town on Thursday.
“After last night’s game I was going to cancel it to be honest with you because we had fans coming we didn’t,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s always good not to react to those situations. It was good, we had a good practice, a good meeting, we have to get things right.”
With eight regulars out of the lineup, injuries have definitely been a major culprit in the Wings’ downward trend lately, and with an influx of youth from the club’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids the roster has been altered.
“Obviously we’d like to have all (our) guys back,” Babcock said. “But once again like I say all the time it’s about the guys that are playing and the guys that are playing we can do way more with the group we have and we have to do that.”
Practicing outdoors allowed the players to get their minds off the past few weeks and concentrate on putting fun back into their daily routines.
“It was a good day for us,” Kronwall said. “I thought it was a pretty good skate, we got good pace out there and it was fun. … I think the fun is practicing outdoors and skating outdoors. I thought the skate, we try to keep the focus up and try to do the right things out there.”
The hour-long practice on an outdoor rink wasn’t new to goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who used to skate outside during his stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“When I was in Toronto we had an outdoor practice maybe a couple of times a year,” the Red Wings’ backup said. “We used to go out in the community so I’ve been doing it for a few times the last few years.
“It’s fun to do it maybe a couple of times a year, but I think, overall, I prefer to be indoors but it’s a good experience, especially like this when it’s nice weather.”
Wednesday’s practice was just the second time that the Red Wings ventured outside during Babcock’s nine seasons with the club. The first time was at Clark Park on the city’s southwest side in February 2012, which defenseman Jonathan Ericsson remembers fondly.
“Last time we had the crowd really close by but just being out here in the middle of the field is spectacular,” Ericsson said. “You have the big screen going on as we’re practicing and it’s really cool to be skating at, that’s for sure.”
For the majority of the Wings, the Winter Classic against the Maple Leafs in front of an estimated 107,000 fans in Ann Arbor will be their first outdoor game experience.
“My dad would build me and my brother a rink in the backyard every winter and that’s how I started playing, how I started skating right in my backyard,” said Lashoff, who grew up in Upstate New York. “I never played a game outdoors, so I think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
While skating at Comerica gave the players some sense of what weather conditions could be like on New Year’s Day, the magnitude of playing in the Big House is immeasurable.
“I think that’s something that you’re not really going to be able to wrap your head around until you’re actually there,” Lashoff said. “Even here this place is pretty big and it’s a kind of a cool experience, so going into there will be definitely amazing.”
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