PLYMOUTH - After 113 days, the National Hockey League is back. The lockout between the NHL and the NHL Players Association ended this past week, and now the league begins the process of welcoming back their fans.
For the Detroit Red Wings, that process shouldn’t take long at all.
An estimated 2,000 people made the trek to Compuware Arena in Plymouth yesterday to see the club open up training camp. The event was free to the public, as are the rest of the team’s skates this week at Compuware (through Tuesday) and Joe Louis Arena.
This was the first time fans were able to see the team skate in 2013, as the team began preparation for their first game of the season on Jan. 19 in St. Louis.
Local fans, such as Mike Slade of Wixom, jumped on the opportunity to see the team practice for free.
“I think it’s pretty exciting so far,” he said. “It’s cool we can get so close to the players, especially for free. At the Joe you can’t see them this up close, it adds a whole new aspect to the game in my opinion.”
Slade would like to see teams interact with their fans more, especially after the lengthily lockout.
“Discounted tickets for this season because it’s pretty much half of a normal season would help people get back into the spirit,” he recommended. “More player/fan interaction, meet and greet type of stuff to get people to watch these guys.”
Liz Strebbing, a Redford resident, was thrilled that the Wings are holding camp in Plymouth this year as opposed to Traverse City, the normal host.
“We usually go up to training camp in Traverse City,” she said, “but it’s cool having it in our backyard, not having to travel for it.”
Although there were some ill-feelings toward the league during the lockout, Strebbing says that all went away after they announced the lockout was over.
Slade said that although the lockout was “frustrating to see,” he was ready for the NHL to be back.
Players on the club were ecstatic about the turnout at the first practice, and are glad the team is offering training camp tickets for free.
“I think it’s awesome,” forward Valtteri Filppula said. “We definitely have to hope to get the fan base back, it’s a tough time for everybody, especially the fans. Hopefully this is a good thing for them and they enjoy it and are behind us after the season gets started.”
Troy native Mike Madley was more than ready for the Red Wings to be back, but managed to get his hockey fix over the winter without any problems.
“We managed to go over to the benefit game over at the [Windsor] Spitfires arena before Christmas, otherwise it’s just been trying to watch mostly college hockey,” he said.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall is looking forward to repay the fans with success on the ice.
“We can just try and do what we can, play our best hockey, try to bring it to the Joe every night and hopefully they’ll come back and cheer for us because we love to play in front of them,” he said.
Despite the fact that hockey never really stops in Michigan, many fans are more than happy to see their NHL team back in Hockeytown.
“I think a lot of us hockey enthusiasts who like to see the game are looking forward to the Wings getting going again,” Madley said.