TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The Detroit Red Wings opened training camp Saturday after a long off-season for a team used to going deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After playing in the Stanley Cup final in consecutive seasons, the Red Wings made an early exit last spring, falling to the San Jose Sharks in five games in the second round.
“You got those three or four extra weeks to relax after the season and you also had those weeks to work harder during the summer,” star forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We didn’t have that the last three seasons, so that will benefit us a lot.”
Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said he noticed the added energy in the first workout.
“I think you could tell it was a little higher pace this year than it usually is,” he said. “Everyone is excited to get going again.”
Detroit got back to work Saturday with a few new players in Michigan native Mike Modano and Jiri Hudler, who left the team to play in Russia last season. The two will play on a line with Dan Cleary.
“I felt better than I thought I would,” said Modano, a longtime star with Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars. “Last night it was tough sleeping. It felt like a first or second camp for me. I was a little nervous, anxious to get up and get started.”
The 40-year-old Modano broke into the NHL with Minnesota in the 1989 playoffs.
“He’s like everybody, he’s trying to get his game in order,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s around a bunch of new guys. He can skate and he has a smile on his face. He’s playing with real good guys with Hudler and Cleary.”
Saturday was the first time for several new lines to work together. That included the top two defensive pairs, where Babcock split up team captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, teaming Lidstrom with Kronwall, and Rafalski with Brad Stuart.
“This is just day one, we’ll see where he wants us tomorrow. But obviously, it feels pretty good to play alongside a guy like Nick,” Kronwall said.
Kronwall missed 34 games last season because of a knee injury.
“Obviously, we think he’s an elite, elite player, but the only way you can be elite is when you’re healthy,” Babcock said. “When Z (Zetterberg) or Pav (Pavel Datsyuk) have been injured, they haven’t been great. That’s just the way it is. In order to be a dominant player in this league, you’ve got to be healthy.”
Saturday’s agenda included workouts, drills and a scrimmage. Longtime Red Wings forward Kris Draper left the scrimmage because of a pulled groin. The extent of his injury was unknown.
“Is that two weeks, or 10 days or 10 games, I don’t know,” Babcock said.
The drills were nothing new to the core of veterans back in Traverse City.
“A lot of the drills are basic drills that we do all year and have done in years past,” Rafalski said. “It’s more for the young guys to see the pace and pound in their heads that this is the way we play.”
The team will open the exhibition season Wednesday night at Pittsburgh.