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(DAN RIEDLHUBER)
(DAN RIEDLHUBER)

Red Wings know how to have fun Add to ...

They come off as a cool, efficient bunch - from Nik Lidstrom's steady play to Henrik Zetterberg's sneaky forays. But the Detroit Red Wings insist there's more to them than poise and precision.

They are, in the words of their head coach, a fun-loving group; a team of characters that often strays from the hockey norm both by accident and design. Said bench boss Mike Babcock: "I think our team has the most fun in the NHL."

Some of you are no doubt thinking: "Of course the Red Wings have fun. They win a lot more games than they lose." But the ever-aspiring Babcock believes there's something to be said for how you treat your players and how you keep them fresh and engaged.

For example: this past week, after they played in Edmonton, the Red Wings stuck around the Alberta capital an extra day and hooked up with Olympic curler Kevin Martin and his rink. The whole Detroit team competed in a two-end bonspiel, just to get their minds away from hockey.

Several other National Hockey League teams have tried the curling thing, too. But the Red Wings do more and they do it better, which again goes back to Babcock's point about having fun.

"We want to vary what we do. We change our approach so we're not grinding our players," said Babcock. "I learned a ton being around Scotty Bowman, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman. I've been told I'm demanding yet unappreciative. I try to be appreciative of our players and let them breathe."

To accomplish that, Babcock has allowed his players to bring their kids into the dressing room virtually any time they want.

"We've got 33 kids (combined count)," he said. "I walk into the room and I'm asking, 'Whose little boy are you?' I like kids."

Babcock, despite being a stickler for details, will also let a practice get away from him every now and then.

"We have some of our best practices when no one's paying attention (to the coach)," he said with a smile.

The Red Wings have tried other approaches to inspire the players as well as management's thinking. During the season, the team has brought in business leaders and the heads of such companies as Nexen and Cisco to talk about motivation and success. Former NHL coach Pierre Page, who now coaches with EC Red Bull in the Austrian Hockey League, has spoken to the Red Wings brass while former NHL coach Ken Hitchcock worked with the players during Detroit's training camp.

The idea is to take the best from others and make it part of the Red Wings way.

"I'm a process-driven guy. I'm trying to get better every day," Babcock said. "That's why we've brought in guys from Nexen and Cisco. We're trying to get better. We don't care where we get it."

As he was talking, Detroit defenceman Ruslan Salei came off the ice 20 minutes after practice had ended.

"Look at him," noted Babcock. "He's the last guy off the ice. He has a wife and kids. He's got more going on than hockey. If you don't understand that you get in the way of yourself.

"We try to make it comfortable."

Fun, too. What a concept.





Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

 

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