Red Wings share some laughs at Economic Club

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — What is interesting about the annual Red Wings appearance before the Economic Club of Detroit is seeing the team away from the formality of news conferences and interviews with the media, when diplomacy and professionalism dictate a certain amount of decorum.

Things certainly get a little loose.

Asked what he enjoys about the annual father's trip, Henrik Zetterberg talked about familial feelings easing the burden of a long schedule, and how much his father has enjoyed them.

Then he paused and said, "Just to see all the players, how they change, first of all, when their dad's around."

The 800 or so gathered at the Motor City Casino Hotel thought that pretty funny.

And Mike Babcock contributed his own bit of mischief.

"With the guys, when their dads get around me, they get nervous: Which is, 'Hey, what's he going to say? What's he doing? Do you drink too much? What's going on here?' "

There remain, nonetheless, moments when tact remains an essential ingredient.

When asked about the player with the best soccer skills, in a warming-up routine performed under the stands before every game, Daniel Cleary paused long, with his mates' eyes on him, awaiting the response.

"The best player?" he said, hesitating.

The man who read the question from the audience, Chris Ilitch, the chief executive officer of Ilitch Holdings and an owner of the Wings with his parents, urged caution.

"Think now," Ilitch counseled.

"OK, I'll go with Z. I'll go with Z," Cleary said quickly, to much laughter.

True or not, there hung in the air the possibility of the potential for a dividend, complimenting your captain in public.

"And who thinks he's the best? Everyone in the room will probably say me," Cleary smiled.

"But I'm going with Howie thinks he is the best. So that's the answer."

Ah, those forwards. Always busting the goalies.

Redmond has moments

The master of ceremonies, Mickey Redmond, was introduced by Ilitch as "the master of bingo-bango."

Redmond put on a bravura performance, of course.

He had a question for Justin Abdelkader, concerning Pavel Datsyuk's year-old assertion that Abdelkader's job is pulling the piano, while Datsyuk plays it.

Looking out in the audience, where Datsyuk may have indicated some discomfort with the course of the interrogation, Redmond said, "You said it, pal!"

Abdelkader interrupted the ensuing merriment long enough to quip, "Well, believe me, he let's me know when I'm not carrying the piano!"

Then, he added, "It's an honor to pull the piano for him."

Redmond handled his charge to keep things moving with aplomb, except for once.

As general manager Ken Holland discoursed about trades, the impact of the salary cap era on maneuverability with personnel and the designed parity of the NHL, he reached the point of saying that once in the playoffs, anything can happen.

But with words still hanging on his lips, Redmond suddenly said, "Uh, thanks, Kenny."

The room resounded with mirth.

And, with another rascally look on his face, Babcock chirped, "I guess that says his time was up, does it?"

"The flag went up!" Mickey countered, over the laughter.

Other potential moments of awkwardness got cleaned up, too, like the opportunity for the public to ask Abdelkader to evaluate Babcock — as he sat elbow-to-elbow with his coach.

Fortunately for Abdelkader, he was questioned specifically about his likes, not the dislikes.

Grasping the potential for peril, regardless, Ilitch told him, "I don't think this is a fair question anyway, especially since you're sitting right next to him."

Fans should be happy

There were other serious moments, too, including one that indicates a bright future for Red Wings fans.

Ilitch said significant steps have been taken to assure they have a fine view of the games in the new arena.

"At the center of all of it," Ilitch said, of the entertainment district to be constructed beginning this spring, "will be an awesome new home for our Detroit Red Wings — an arena focused on an incredible experience for our fans and our players.

"Our talented project team has visited arenas all across the country and, actually, around the world. So that what we bring forward is truly world class and highly unique to Detroit.

"And between visiting, basically, every arena out there, in my family's 30-plus years in professional sports, we're convinced that what makes the fan experience special is proximity to the playing surface, feeling very close to the action, amazing sight lines where every seat is a good one and an immersive experience that's engaging, exciting, loud, an intimidating place for the opposition to play.

"That's what we have planned for this bowl.

"And we think it's going to be awesome for you, our fans."

Speaking at the hotel, several blocks north of the old site of Tiger Stadium, with its famously intimate views and useful sightlines, Ilitch made clear the new Red Wings arena is planned and designed to do the same.

Some Tigers fans still complain that despite being a handsome ballpark that accentuates downtown Detroit, with what architecture critics say is some of the handsomest old skyscrapers in the nation, the viewing experience for fans pales compared to the old ballpark.

Some Red Wings fans note that despite its clear disadvantages, Joe Louis Arena affords one of the more intimate settings in the NHL.