Red Wings still feel Mike Ilitch’s presence

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s going to feel a little different at Joe Louis Arena, for sure.

Wednesday’s game against St. Louis will be the first at home since the death of owner Mike Ilitch on Friday.

The Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, head coach Scotty Bowman and the rest of the team pose with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes to win the 2002 Stanley Cup.

Red Wings players say Ilitch’s aura will continue to blanket the organization.

“You feel his presence, and felt his presence, when he was around, how important he was to the team and organization, and for the Tigers as well,” forward Darren Helm said. “Everybody had a lot of respect for him and what he helped to accomplish for both teams and the city.”

Since Ilitch died last week, his accomplishments as a sports owner — the Red Wings won four Stanley Cups during his ownership and the Tigers reached two World Series — have been well documented.

But many front-office executives have hailed Ilitch’s work and vision for downtown Detroit, and his role in transforming the core of the city.

Danny DeKeyser, who grew up in Macomb Township and has witnessed the continued rejuvenation of downtown Detroit, said that will be a huge part of Ilitch’s legacy.

“What he brought to Detroit and just everything he did for the city, and trying to push the city forward,” DeKeyser said. “He tried to make it a better place.

“He’s going to be missed.”

Wednesday’s game, DeKeyser said, will be a little different for the Red Wings.

“We’re going to go out and play for Mr. Ilitch, try to give our best effort and do what we can,” DeKeyser said. “We know he’s still watching.”

Coach Jeff Blashill saw Ilitch’s passion shortly after Blashill was hired, and Blashill was going over possible assistants to be added to the staff.

“We were at Comerica (Park) and I was going through it with him (Ilitch) and (general manager) Ken Holland, the process of hiring assistant coaches and the passion he showed just (about) my hiring of those positions was amazing,” Blashill sid. “There was no doubt that he was in charge and no doubt he wanted to make sure I got it right.

“The passion was awesome.”

Ilitch always will be remembered as one of professional sports’ finest owners, Blashill said.

“The combination of compassion and passion, and the want to win, you saw lots of his former players talk about wanting to win for him,” Blashill said. “A lot of today’s ownerships, it feels more like businesslike.

“With him, it was like he was the father of this team.

“He certainly was unique, in so much of what he did, the impact on youth hockey in the city of Detroit and state of Michigan, and certainly his impact on the Red Wings and Tigers.”

Mike Ilitch memorial

When: Noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Fox Theatre Grand Lobby, Detroit

More info: Ilitch will lie in repose for a public visitation. There will be an additional memorial opportunity and recognition event Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena before the game against the St. Louis Blues.