Michigan Red Wings laud Calvin: ‘He was a beast’

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
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Justin Abdelkader

Columbus, Ohio – The news of Calvin Johnson officially retiring from the Lions hit home with several Red Wings who have watched him closely over the years.

Danny DeKeyser (Macomb / Western Michigan) grew up a Lions fan and enjoyed watching Johnson on the field.

“It’s a shame to see him go,” said DeKeyser, who has attended Lions games but never got the chance to meet Johnson. “He’s one of the best receivers the game has seen in a while, and that the Lions have had in a while.

“He was always a solid red-zone option, always getting double-teamed in the end zone, and guys couldn’t stop him.

“He was a beast. Always one of the best players on the field and always fun to watch.”

Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon / Michigan State) was struck by the athleticism that Johnson brought into the NFL.

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“When he came out of college, his combine measureables were off the charts for how big he was,” Abdelkader said. “It’s disappointing to see him retire because he was so fun to watch.”

But Abdelkader can understand Johnson leaving because of the physical toll pro sports -- particularly football – takes on athletes.

“He wants to walk away somewhat healthy,” Abdelkader said. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on your body, not only at the pro level but for him in high school and college. There are injuries that probably happened there, too.”

Seeing Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on a daily basis, coach Jeff Blashill respects the work ethic of an athlete such as Johnson.

“Too many times people talk about how talented they are, but talent most of the time comes from hard work and your daily approach,” Blashill said. “Calvin, I’m sure without having seen it but from what I’ve heard, he’s similar to Pavel and Hank and all the great ones. You don’t become great from chance or happenstance but from your daily choices.”

Blashill, another Michigander who has been a lifelong Lions fan, was disappointed to see Johnson retire.

“Calvin is one of the great ones,” Blashill said. “He’s been a pleasure to watch. Everyone knows their own timeline and when their timeline is done, and he certainly is doing it on his timeline.

“What a great sports figure in the city of Detroit and he’ll be remembered for a long time.”

Datsyuk back

Pavel Datsyuk (illness) took part in Tuesday’s morning skate and Blashill expects Datsyuk to play against Columbus after missing Sunday’s game in Chicago.

Teemu Pulkkinen likely would sit with Datsyuk re-entering the lineup.

Defensive shuffle

Blashill has shifted his defensive pairings, hoping to strengthen a unit that has struggled in recent games.

DeKeyser was with Alexey Marchenko, while Mike Green was paired with Kyle Quincey, and Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson were reunited.

“I don’t think our defense has been as good lately as they were at different points of the year,” Blashill said. “Sometimes that’s guys not quite playing up to their potential, (or) it’s the pairings.”

Chemistry with your defensive partner is important, but Kronwall believes it can be overrated at times.

“Of course it helps,” said Kronwall. “There’s no question about that. But at the same time we’ve played enough with each other now that we should have chemistry with everybody.

“So regardless of who you’re out there with, you should be feel pretty comfortable.”

Score watching

It’s that time of the year, with teams watching how other teams close in the standings are doing.

The Red Wings are trying to remain focused on their own performance.

“We can’t worry about what other teams are doing. It’s all in our hands,” Kronwall said. “We dictate where we go from here. It’s just about finding a way to win and get points every night.”

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