Detroit Red Wings reflect on strange, different year


Detroit – The realization of what was to come had started the day before, but on March 12th last year the unexpected struck the NHL.

The league paused its season due to coronavirus concerns.

The Red Wings were preparing to travel to the Verizon Center for a morning skate that was due to be played in Washington later that evening.

They never made it into the arena, rumors that Commissioner Gary Bettman was going out of season.

The official announcement came a few hours later.

“At that point we all expected there would be a slight delay and we will end the season in a couple of weeks,” said striker Adam Erne.

The Wings failed to qualify for the NHL’s return last summer as the league ended their season and crowned Tampa Bay Stanley Cup champions.

Not being able to play hockey was a long wait for the Red Wings and six other teams until a shortened 56-game regular season kicks off in January.

“I didn’t know if our season would continue (last March) but I certainly didn’t think I’d be sitting here on St. Patrick’s Day and the world is still nowhere near normal,” said coach Jeff Blashill. “I didn’t think it would be 10 months before we were back on the ice. I didn’t think it would be a year and we would still have limited fans (in arenas).

“It’s been a long time for everyone. Hopefully there will be light at the end of the tunnel and we will get as close to normal as possible.

“It was like nothing I ever thought I’d go through, and hopefully we don’t have to go through it again.”

Striker Sam Gagner remembers being in Detroit but his family was back in Edmonton as Gagner had been acquired in a trade a few weeks earlier.

Gagner did not go to Washington because he was injured.

But Gagner spoke to teammates who were monitoring the news and, given the bad news, knew the potential for a break in the season was real.

“I was trying to figure out how long the break (or break) would be, what is going on in the world, and how am I going to come back to see my family?” said Gagner, who drove to Toronto before the end of that weekend and eventually flew to Edmonton. “Will the borders close? All of these kinds of things. It was a lot on everyone’s lips and we are now a year away from it and it is still on everyone’s lips.

“You look at our situation and just feel for everyone who is still going through a difficult time and you are just grateful that we are back playing and doing what we love to do.”

Another rise in the virus in autumn left no hope of a start to the season by January.

And the late start didn’t seem to help as multiple teams, including the Wings, battled COVID-19 outbreaks, decimated lineups and canceled games.

The Wings had five regulars from the lineup, which weakened their lineup and cost them potential wins.

However, in the past few weeks, only three players have been on the COVID-19 log list, which shows that the NHL – and society – are making headway.

“The quick tests on match days were really positive,” said Blashill. “The situation that happened to us (mid-January) and I have no proof of it, but it seems we have received broadcasts from players we played against for Carolina (season opening series). We had done a good job not to get infected from the outside.

“It looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel for us as a society and that will only help us end the season.”

The only positive thing about all of this, said Blashill and the players, was the opportunity to spend time with family.

There was more time to be at home than there otherwise would have been, and for that everyone is grateful.

“At one point I said, ‘We’re going to enjoy the summer,’ and it was beautiful,” said Blashill. “The only positive thing about it is that I’ve been spending more time with my kids and more time with my wife than I normally can, whether I’m watching movies, going for walks with my wife, which I actually haven’t done done a lot.

“Our family had grown closer because of the time we spent together.”

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Twitter: @tkulfan


Dusty Kennedy