After giving up six goals to the 27th best offense in the league, the Red Wings emerged from the tunnel at Michigan Stadium to a phrase all too familiar to University of Michigan and its storied athletics program. "The Team. The Team. The Team," comes from a famous speech given by the late and legendary coach, Bo Schembechler. While its meaning is obvious, its purpose is all too important.
"If you haven't been to a football Saturday here, then you should put it on your bucket list. It's the best sporting event," said coach Mike Babcock.
Babcock talked about outdoor games and other sporting events, but he didn't undermine the fact that tomorrow does have meaning beyond nostalgia.
"All these games count. They're supposed to count. That's why you're in the League."
The Red Wings have been battered with injuries, and it is no secret. The Wings at one point were missing their entire first line, and for the first time in nearly a decade and a half, played without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup.
"Look, we've missed a lot of guys. It's been ongoing," said Babcock. "I just arrive at the rink and am scared to death when the trainer walks up to me and tells me what's going on that day."
When asked about the return of Henrik Zetterberg to the lineup, Babcock didn't mince his words. He talked skill level, but he was more adamant about him as a person; "he's also a special man. His leadership ability and his ability to understand the game and demand a lot from others is because he gets so much out of himself."
Jimmy Howard gets the start in goal tomorrow for Detroit, and Babcock is confident that he can get back up to speed. Daniel Alfredsson is day to day, but he is listed as "probable" for tomorrow. He skated with the team today.
Luke Glendening swapped places with Tomas Jurco today as well. Babcock wanted Glendening to get his turn at playing in a Winter Classic game (it doesn't hurt that Glendening went to the University of Michigan), but also to re-unite Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the first line. "We like him. He plays hard and he knows how to play. He's in."
To end probably one of the best pressers ever given to the media, Babcock talked about remembering key events of a career and life. "I think you're supposed to enjoy whatever you do. You don't remember everything in your life, but you remember moments. This should be one." There is, however, one caveat.
"It's way more fun when you win."
It was a little cagey, but that's nothing unexpected coming from an Ontario man who displayed to the HBO 24/7 Audience that it is indeed possible to not know how to use a toaster.
On a day where the Leafs extended captain Dion Phaneuf's contract to keep him for another seven years, Randy Carlyle decided that Nonis and Phaneuf weren't going to have all of the spotlight.
The stout Leafs' coach gave some laughs when asked about his starting goaltender, but then Jonathan Bernier showed up to the podium and all questions were answered. "I found out before practice," Bernier said. "Obviously, it's great. It's great that he gave me the nod and being part of this whole history is pretty amazing." Alas, the Reimer and Carlyle tiff grows.
"It's going to be a fun moment. At the end of the day you've just got to enjoy that it's probably never going to happen again."
While the players are enjoying the rarest of opportunities in the hockey world, the coaching staff and front office have not had the easiest of years. "Let's not lose sight of the fact that we're in a dog fight. I'm sure both teams or both coaches have the same perspective on what their season has been like," said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.
The injury bug has been a huge factor this season, as has the cap, as have the Olympics, and so on and so forth. Carlyle, however, expects more out of his core guys. "I think there are three talented players that all have the ability to provide offense," Carlyle stated, specifically referring to Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul, and new Leaf Mason Raymond. "Some of the group should equal more than what we're getting now."
The Leafs expect their leadership group to grow, but it starts with Dion, who at a young age was asked to captain an Original Six team. The Leafs are looking for consistency, as is every NHL franchise. However, under as much scrutiny as it has been in recent years, Carlyle sees the Leafs as a team that needs to build more of a leadership core, regardless of how vocal a player is. "We'd like more people to lead by example, and I think that's the ultimate goal for any coaching staff is to have a large group of those people doing that."
This is part of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® . Feel free to check out the H2H3 pledge drive for the Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation. You can also text KIDS to 85944 to donate $5 to make an easy donation (full details here).