Red Wings practice outside at Detroit’s Comerica Park

Justin Abdelkader returned to practice just in time to skate at Comerica Park. (Photo by Stefan Kubus/MiHockey)

By Nick Barnowski - 

DETROIT - As Pavel Datsyuk said, “Move fast or you’ll be frozen.”

That’s not an issue for normal Detroit Red Wings practices, but for today’s skate, Datsyuk’s advice rang true.

The Red Wings took their practice outdoors on Wednesday, skating on the rink at Comerica Park in front of a few hundred fans as part of the build up to the Winter Classic and Hockeytown Winter Festival.

“It was a good day for us; I thought it was a pretty good skate,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “The fun is practicing outdoors. Anytime you’re outside it’s a lot of fun.”

The Wings entered the outdoor practice on a six-game losing streak after falling 5-2 to the Anaheim Ducks last night at Joe Louis Arena. Although the team’s recent struggles have dampened the mood, they used the special practice as a way to refocus and regroup after a difficult December.

“It was good, we had a good little practice and more important than our practice, we had a good meeting here this morning,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “You try to do enough team-building stuff during the year to change things up to break up the monotony.”

Luke Glendening said that “loosening” up might not be the way he’d describe the practice’s effect, but it allowed them to focus more on the tasks at hand.

“We’ve had some troubles of late here and coach talked about how our attention to detail has to be better, so I think guys are trying to be more focused and get that stuff done,” the former Michigan Wolverine said. “But at the same time, we’re trying to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere.”

While many players on the team have participated in a game outside before, getting the opportunity to skate at Comerica Park in front of fans was still a special event.

“My hometown where I grew up, we only had an outdoor rink, so I played outdoors until I was 12 or so and then I moved to another team where we had both, indoors and outdoors,” goalie Jonas Gustavsson said. “I grew up on outdoor rinks, so it brings back some memories.”

The Winter Classic won’t be Glendening’s first outdoor experience as he played in the Big Chill at the Big House in 2010 and the Frozen Diamond Faceoff in Cleveland in 2012. Regardless, the Grand Rapids native is excited.

“Obviously it’s exciting,” he said. “Playing in the Big House was an awesome experience when I was in school, but whatever game I’m in I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it.

“It brings back memories of when you were a kid and playing and I think that helps. It’s something that you’ve grown up doing so it brings you back to your roots.”

Justin Abdelkader, who practiced today after taking a check to the head by the Penguins’ Deryk Engelland last Saturday, skating outside growing up but is looking forward to his first organized outdoor game.

“It was fun to come out here and skate today, I was glad I got the opportunity to do that,” he said. “This weather is perfect right now, as long as it’s not too much colder I think we’ll be all right. I’m really excited.”

Babcock also used the practice to reflect on his outdoor hockey memories.

“We used to slide down the hill behind the Wapoos Bay in Leaf Rapids, Manitoba and we had a great little rink back there, it was fantastic. Obviously, this isn’t that, but it’s pretty special. It’s just like when we walked out of Wrigley. When I walked out of the dugout here today, that’s what it felt like.”

Many players, including Kronwall, said that the ice was a lot better than they expected it to be.

“Outdoors, you never know what to expect but it was actually pretty good,” Kronwall said. “I thought the guys have done a great job so far.”

As the Wings broke in the Comerica Park ice, they also were breaking in equipment that will be worn on January 1 in the Winter Classic. The gloves, pants, and helmets the team wore today matched the color combination of the jerseys they’ll wear at Michigan Stadium.

Gustavsson showed off a new set of pads as well as a new glove and blocker that were custom made for the upcoming event. The pads were brown with a strip of red on the outsides, while the glove and blocker each had red and brown on them.

“I tried to combine an old-school look, but still have some red for the Red Wings on it, so I’m pretty happy with the result,” Gustavsson said. “It’s probably a one-time thing, so you really want to pick it as good as possible, but I’m pretty happy the way it turned out.”

Three injured Red Wings practiced today as Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser, and Darren Helm all skated. Daniel Alfredsson was given the day off.

The Wings take on the Calgary Flames tomorrow night at home.