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Red Wings' nifty forward Zetterberg says Niedermayer tough to get around

"Which Anaheim defenceman is harder to get around, Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer?" he was asked after a Thursday practice in preparation for the opening game of the NHL's Western Conference final Friday night 7:30 p.m. ET.

"I don't know," Zetterberg replied. "You know, Pronger is of course a bigger guy, but I think Niedermayer is a better skater.

"It's maybe tougher to go around Niedermayer because he's such a good skater but, on the other hand, Pronger is a big guy so he's got a long reach."

Zetterberg has a team-high four playoff goals, but he was talking about checking more than anything Thursday.

"We've been giving up too many scoring chances," he said. "That has to improve."

After missing the last 19 games of the regular season, he says he feels he's just rounding into top shape.

"The first couple of games were tough - not physically but timing-wise," he said. "I feel good now."


GETTING AHEAD: Chris Pronger's 2006-2007 salary was US$6.25 million - not bad for a guy who's first job was as a dishwasher at Royal Pizza Palace in Dryden, Ont.


WARDROBE ADJUSTMENT: Mike Babcock says he never wears the same tie twice for NHL games, but he might break his tradition when he goes behind the Red Wings bench for the opener of the Western Conference final Friday night.

Detroit's coach is leaning towards going back to the McGill University tie he wore April 28, when his players rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat San Jose in pivotal Game 5 of the second round. Babcock was captain of the Redmen varsity hockey team during the 1980s.

Earl Zukerman, communications officer for the school's teams, says he received a text message from Babcock saying the maroon McGill tie will reappear Friday.


FEELS YOUNG: Chris Chelios makes Mike Babcock feel young. The 45-year-old American defenceman is 15 months older than the Canadian head coach of the Detroit Red Wings. They were major junior hockey opponents on Saskatchewan teams in the early 1980s.

"The first time I ever saw Cheli, I was 17 and he was 18, or I was 16 and he was 17, and he was playing at Moose Jaw and I was playing for Saskatoon," Babcock recalls. "I was playing against him.

"He was a lot better than me. He got to play hockey. I had to do something else."

Babcock proceeded to heap accolades on the oldest player in the NHL.

"His hunger to win and his hunger to compete is phenomenal," he said. "Cheli will do anything you want as long as it leads to winning.

"He's a great leader and he's a great man. We've been real fortunate, or I have, to get to know is family a little bit, to see how proud he is of his boys, to have them around. They've on the father-son trip.

"I think Cheli is a great contributor to our team, but I think he's a huge contributor to the community."


FACING HIS IDOL: Red Wings centre Valtteri Filppula works for Ducks star Teemu Selanne during the summer.

Filppula, 23, has been an instructor for the last three years at a hockey school operated by Selanne, 37, in Katinkulta, Finland. The NHL rookie was 12 when he first met Selanne. He got an autograph he's always prized.


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