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Zetterberg remembers his military service

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Through 18 games, Henrik Zetterberg leads the Red Wings in goals (10), points (20) and plus/minus rating (+12). (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – There’s no doubt that Henrik Zetterberg is the epitome of stealth when he steps on the ice. But those steps weren’t always so quiet.

When he was 17-years-old, Zetterberg spent 7 ½ months training in Sweden’s Army, as it was a requirement for all Swedish men to serve in the country’s military before they turned 18.

The Red Wings’ forward was a member of the athlete’s platoon, and one particular memory of those military days is a constant reminder of why he stuck to hockey.

“We were supposed to sneak up on a group that was out in the woods,” Zetterberg explained. “They were out doing it (exercise) for a week and we were supposed to sneak up on them. We thought we were stealthly, but all of a sudden we were surrounded by everyone else and they just started shooting, not real ones, but the fake machine gun. We were pretty scared then we realized we were probably not the best guys of sneaking up on the enemy.”

Reliving the memory made Zetterberg laugh.

He is one of the few NHL players who served in his military, and although Veteran’s Day isn’t celebrated in Sweden, Zetterberg still understands the importance of appreciating and honoring those who have served for their countries.

“I think it’s an important day,” Zetterberg said. “I think they do a lot of good things, not just the U.S. military, but all the units around the world. But Sweden’s not a big military country, obviously we’re helping out, but we don’t do a lot of big stuff. I think the U.S. having that big of a military has a lot of veterans and it’s nice to do what we can to give back for what they have done.”

The Wings’ captain may have only spent a few months in the military, but the lessons he learned will last a lifetime.

“Back then it was kind of the first time we really had to take orders and do stuff like that and I think that’s a good experience for us, 17 turning 18 when we went through it,” Zetterberg said. “So obviously it’s good. I think it’s sad we don’t have it now back home in Sweden because it was a good thing in that age to go through.”

The experience has stayed with Zetterberg over the past 15 years, as he now fights a different battle, leading his own group of men on the ice night in and night out.

And he’s the best Red Wing for the job. Zetterberg is currently on a five-game point streak, having recorded eight points over the past five contests, including two goals in a 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. The forward is currently tied for seventh in the league with 10 goals and tied for sixth in points with 20.

But the Red Wings will need to count on much more than Zetterberg’s leadership and offensive production when they play Winnipeg Tuesday for the second time in eight days.

“They skated us last time,” said coach Mike Babcock. “I watched them play San Jose the other night and they skated real well. They’ve got good depth. They have back end that can move the puck, that has size and they’ve got goaltending. They’re a good team. I’ll be a test for us.

“Our big thing is start on time and play the whole 60. When you make a mistake don’t let it lead to two or three mistakes, just make one mistake and stay poised, stay patient and keep grinding in the game.”

CLEARLY GRAY: Forward Daniel Cleary donned a gray jersey at the Red Wings’ practice Monday, signifying that he will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s matchup against the Jets.

“I just have to play better,” Cleary said after practice. “It’s the ebbs and flows of hockey. The only thing you can control now is your attitude and work ethic. I have to play better and I have to produce more.”

Babcock agreed: “For a guy of his hockey sense and his ability he’s got to be a factor every night and I don’t see that.”

Cleary has recorded one goal and two assists in 18 games this season after signing a one-year contract to return to the Red Wings.

HOME SLIDE: Detroit will try to avoid a six-game home winless streak on Tuesday when they host the Jets.

With a 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Red Wings extended their home winless streak to five games. The last time the Red Wings experienced a five-game slide at Joe Louis was during the 1996-97 season, when they lost to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (1-0) in overtime; tied St. Louis (1-1) and Toronto (2-2); and were defeated by Ottawa (3-2) and St. Louis (3-1).

Winnipeg hasn’t won in Detroit since January 8, 1996, and defeated the Red Wings 4-2 last week at the MTS Centre.

“They took it to us pretty good,” Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “I think that’s fresh in all of our minds and we should be looking for a little bit of revenge here tomorrow night.”

TURNOVER TROUBLE: Turnovers have plagued the Red Wings in their winless streak, most recently against Tampa Bay when a giveaway late in the overtime period cost Detroit the game. The Wings have given up the puck 37 times in their past five matchups, including eight against the Lightning and 10 in their last meeting with the Jets.

“I think the other night against Dallas, I thought we played really a good game all around,” Howard said. “It’s just a couple of bad breaks in the net and here the other night Z has a great shot there in the third to tie it up and another mistake and it cost us again. So we just have to find a way to eliminate those mistakes from our games and I think we’ll be better off for it.”

HOLD YOUR FISTS: NHL general managers will meet Tuesday in Toronto to discuss adding a rule that would give a 10-game suspension to goaltenders who leave their area to initiate a fight. The meeting was prompted after Philadelphia’s Ray Emery instigated a brawl with an unwilling Braden Holtby from Washington.

“I really don’t want to ever see Ray Emery skate down at me,” Howard said. “We’ll leave it at that.

“You shouldn’t have to fight. I wouldn’t stand up to him, that’s one guy on my list that I probably would try to find the nearest exit to the ice, whether it be the Zamboni doors or the bench. I mean, jeez you click on YouTube and you watch him take on heavyweights out there. Fighting with goalies, it’s always been part of the game, so it’s always I think even the players like it. You always see, the one way for a bench brawl to stop is have the goalies square off because everyone seems to stop and watch.”

Jordin Tootoo, the Red Wings’ resident tough guy also had his thoughts on the topic.

“The whole situation with the fighting and whatnot, it’s getting cracked down everywhere,” Tootoo said. “I think it’s probably the right thing to do. Goalies don’t train to do those types of things. There’s one or two in the league that are, that practice boxing or whatever. I think it’s probably a good thing.”

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