PLYMOUTH – Compuware Ice Arena in Plymouth may not hold as many people as Joe Louis Arena.
But judging by the parking lot problems, it’s safe to expect that there will be a whole lot of fans in attendance for the Red Wings’ home opener on Jan. 22.
The Red Wings hosted their ‘Red and White Game’ at Compuware Tuesday night, concluding a three-day period in which Hockeytown Central relocated to Plymouth. The scrimmage – free to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis – drew so many fans that the Compuware parking lot had to be closed by 5 p.m.
Fans lined the long walk from parking lot to arena entrance as early as 4 p.m., waiting for the doors to open and to see their Red Wings return to action.
Coach Mike Babcock said the dedication shown by the fans in attendance was far more rewarding than seeing all of the top players between the Red Wings and Griffins compete on the same ice surface.
“I thought it was maybe the best thing about the whole night,” Babcock said. “I understand the parking lot was jammed and it was tough getting in here. They’re very, very supportive of the players and I’m appreciative of that they stuck with us.”
Newly-appointed captain Henrik Zetterberg said he didn’t know if he would be able to find a place to park when he arrived for the scrimmage.
“It was real nice to see,” said Zetterberg, who was named captain of the Red Wings at 4:45 p.m. “When we drove up here, we got here around 4:15, we almost couldn’t come to our parking lot, because there were so many fans outside. It was pretty cool to see, and having it sold out for a scrimmage.”
Goaltender Jimmy Howard echoed his captain’s statements after the scrimmage.
“That’s awesome,” Howard said after the game. “Just how much our fans love us, the way they came out here tonight, it’s really inspiring for us.”
Howard also said it was nice to play in a competitive game, his first since last April. Howard’s ‘White Team’ lost to Jonas Gustavsson’s ‘Red Team’, but the Wings’ incumbent starter saw only positives in the contest.
“It was good to be back out there,” Howard said. “That game served its purpose of getting the rust off. As the game went along I felt more and more comfortable, and more and more at home out there, which is a great sign for me.”
Zetterberg said that the team is looking forward to the next step in their fast-paced training camp – returning to Joe Louis Arena. The Wings were unable to return to their home rink at the conclusion of the lockout due to a scheduling conflict, but after a day off on Wednesday, they will return to The Joe for two practices on Thursday.
“We’re really looking forward to that,” the Wings’ captain said. “Especially now when we haven’t been able to practice there either, so, on Thursday, when we go down, that’s going to be pretty cool just to go back home and skate there, but Tuesday night’s (home opener) game is going to be special, to come back.”
Zetterberg also said that he appreciated the fans who attended the game at Compuware, and knows that it’s not going to be easy for other fans to get over the most-recent lockout.
“I don’t know if I was worried about (people attending),” Zetterberg said. “I would understand. But everyone I’ve been talking to when you walk around town or you meet fans, they’re real happy hockey’s back, but I’m pretty sure there will be people that will not show. We’re really appreciative for those fans that came tonight, and we’re really looking forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday.”