Checking in from the Red Wings’ development camp in Traverse City

The Red Wings' prospects line up for drills in Traverse City. (Nick Barnowski/MiHockey)

By Nick Barnowski - 

TRAVERSE CITY - While the red and white jerseys of the Detroit Red Wings normally don’t see an ice rink until the end of summer, there is an exception this week as 41 prospects have invaded Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City for a development camp.

The week of practices, scrimmages, and off-ice workouts allow Red Wings management and fans to get to see possible future stars of tomorrow out on the ice as a group.

In addition to gauging the players’ on-ice talent, the club is also looking at how well they develop physically.

“The most important part of this camp is probably the off-ice,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “All of these guys need to develop physically. You want to make sure they’re going at it the right way, so the most important part is being in the gym.”

Leading the way in that department is Griffins strength and conditioning coach Aaron Downey, who designed a circuit based workout program for the players to do when not practicing on the rink. Players not only do traditional weight-lifting and stretching, but practice lifting techniques by doing exercises such as doing lunges while carrying a log or tossing a 50-pound medicine ball back and forth.

“Our off-ice conditioning has taken a whole new step, and hopefully that will help us long term,” Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. “In order to make it through the 82 games and the playoffs you have to train that much harder, and that’s what [the players] learn from this.”

Players participating in the camp are split up into two teams, “Team Zetterberg” and “Team Lidstrom.” When one team is on the ice, the other is training in the Centre Ice concourse or weight room.

When on the ice, coaches such as stickhandling expert Tomas Storm and power skating instructor Andy Weidenbach (also head coach of Cranbrook’s high school team) put the players through a number of drills to not only get a taste of their skill level, but to teach them proper technique.

“We watch their skating – do they have good speed, are they mobile, can they change direction well,” Nill said about what he looks for when watching practice. “The basics, how do they handle the puck, how is their shot release, are they quick on their shots.”

Although it’s important that each prospect tries to impress the people who either drafted them, signed them, or invited them to camp, team management puts an emphasis on ensuring that after camp, the players learn what it takes to play in the NHL.

“I don’t care what walk of life it is, you need to maximize your potential, that’s what these kids are here to do and we’re trying to help them along the way,” Babcock said. “If you want to be good, you gotta love it, you gotta live it, you gotta eat it, you gotta train it. If there isn’t a huge drive you got no chance and in the end if you aren’t very competitive you aren’t going to be a Red Wing.”