Red Wings to find out if offseason workouts up to par
Detroit — In the Red Wings dressing room, bolted to a cinder-block wall between the weight room and showers is what looks like a relic in the high-tech world of athletic training — a chin-up bar.
After two vigorous practice sessions so long they required Al Sobotka to resurface the ice, Danny DeKeyser jumped up, clasped both hands on the bar and gave it repetitions into the high teens before slowing, even slightly.
"Keep going! Dig down!" urged Peter Renzetti, the Red Wings strength and conditioning coach as he stood nearby and a group of players watched. "Give it another one!"
DeKeyser, who hardly needed the encouragement, finished in the mid-20s, jumped down, and moved to the next task.
It was the last day before the Red Wings pulled up stakes and headed to training camp in Traverse City, where general manager Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock will evaluate how the team responded to their diktat in late April that everyone return "in the best shape of their careers." That is part of a new initiative to avoid the numerous serious injuries that cost the Red Wings dearly last season and in other recent years, and to help drive a deeper run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Camp also is where the team that includes several recent Grand Rapids players will again coalesce, and drill and scrimmage to absorb the systems that define "Red Wings hockey" in the Babcock era.
And then there is the matter of players competing for positions on the roster.
What happens in Traverse City arguably is as essential to the coming season as many of the events that will occur once the regular season begins.
"I think camp is always important," said Niklas Kronwall, one of the team's essential leaders. "It's an important time to bond and get to know each other and get the system down and prepare ourselves for the season. That's where everything starts. If you can have a good camp, then off you go.
"It's a lot easier to hit the ground running than having to make up ground."
That was the plan last season, and every season. And in the autumn of 2013, it absolutely clicked.
The Red Wings opened 10-3-2.
Then, they experienced torrents of injuries that kept many players, including essential participants, on the shelf for weeks at a time — most damagingly, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, too often, for too long, at the same time.
As the team departed to far reaches of North America and Europe beginning late in April, each man knew the absolute priority was conditioning.
"So I think everyone trained really hard in the offseason," said Brian Lashoff, the defenseman who will compete in camp to maintain his position on the roster amid a bevy of young, potentially qualified defenders. "We had a lot of time to do it and so we're ready to go, and hopefully we can put that all behind us and get started on fire."
The results will be evident beginning today. Babcock and Holland's evaluation will suggest whether the goal of remaining healthy to make the playoffs and mount a run to at least the Eastern Conference finals awaits the team in May.
"I think most guys are professionals in this league and understand what they've got to do to be ready," said Drew Miller, the 30-year old forward starting his sixth season with the Red Wings. "We've been skating for three weeks with a decent amount of guys. We have our testing, too."
Such is training camp that clipboards are a presence, with Renzetti and others making frequent hen's scratches to record results of the tests.
"There's agility stuff, treadmill, different stuff in the weight room, bench press," Miller said. "It's definitely stuff where you can't just not do it during the summer, and then you show up.
"If you score poorly on the testing, it might not translate into how you are exactly on the ice. But if you do bad on every single test, then it probably looks like you didn't do anything this summer. So, you've got to be able to do decent on the testing and then perform on the ice."
During the course of a career, Kyle Quincey agreed the emphases in training camp change.
"For an older guy, a lot of it's just getting the speed back into the game," he said. "The scrimmages out here aren't the same as the full-on going. And the preseason games are about getting tuned up and getting the speed down. You can practice all you want during the summer, you're not going to get the game situations like you are against NHL teams.
"For the younger guys it's about impressing. As a young guy, you're coming in and really trying to show you can do what you can do. Now, it is more about getting yourself ready."
The other significant priority, which is paramount for a beneficial start — especially perhaps for a roster that continues in transition — is "coming together."
"Now, it's such a quick training camp, when you get up there you've got to make sure that everyone's on the same page as far as systems and different plays," Miller said. "That's the biggest thing.
"I think for our team going up to Traverse City, you get the bonding out of the way right away."
Kronwall described the current circumstances, in mid-September 2014, as beneficial for success.
"I think it's looking good, with the younger guys taking another step and with the health of our big guys, Hank and Pav," he said. "E (Jonathan Ericsson), hopefully he can stay healthy, too.
"We know the players. We know the system. So, we should be in good shape."