Wings expect ‘special night’ in honoring Mike Ilitch

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The long line of Red Wings wearing dark suits, white shirts and ties grew out of the bus idling on Yzerman Way, as the team returned Wednesday from paying respects to their beloved owner, Mike Ilitch, at the Fox Theatre.

Sadness etched in faces braced against the chill, down by the river.

“Not just for this team and the Tigers and the youth hockey organization, he’s done remarkable things for hockey and the city of Detroit,” a subdued Henrik Zetterberg said.

“It’s going to be a special night for us.

“It started this morning when we had the whole team go to the Fox for visitation and we’ll carry on for tonight.

“It’s a big game for our hockey club, and a special night.”

Zetterberg said he recalled meeting Ilitch, who died Friday at age 87, and his wife Marian at a Tigers game, shortly after he signed his professional contract in 2001, the year before he began playing for the Wings.

Red Wings to wear patch to honor Mike Ilitch

“You felt right away that this is a special place and how they take care of their players and fans,” he said.

Tomas Tatar said all the players will miss “Mr. I.”

“It’s a very said thing,” he said. “He meant something for this city and did lots of great stuff.

“I heard about him a lot, even before I became a Red Wing. I just knew he cared about this organization and a lot for the players and the fans, for sure.

“He was just such a nice person; like really down to earth. He was great. He was good to talk to.”

Jeff Blashill said that the visitation this morning and a prayer service last night, which he attended, help honor the empathy between Ilitch and the players.

“I think that our owners always play very hard for ownership, they have an affinity for ownership, they know was special owners we have and certainly that is magnified tonight,” he said.

Blashill recalled his first meeting with Ilitch after becoming head coach was also at Comerica Park, about a week after the announcement.

“Sitting up with him and just discussing assistant coaches and some other things with free agency that was looming,” he recalled.

“Just the passion that he had. He was on top of it. It was clear that he wanted us certainly to make the right decisions and just great, great passion.”