By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.
After a one-year hiatus due to the NHL lockout, the Red Wings were back in Traverse City in September — first for the annual Prospects Camp, then for the team’s training camp. The team’s return to the area for their preseason camps is No. 3 in the Record-Eagle’s top 10 sports stories of the year.
Because the team did not get the chance to venture north in 2012, hockey fans in the area were rabid over their return, packing Centre ICE Arena for the two-week stretch that the team was practicing.
“There was definitely a big, pent-up demand. We saw it by the amount of calls that we were getting. Just the level of excitement when we did our pre-sales and especially during the camp itself. A lot of people were really, really happy that they’re back,” said Terry Marchand, Executive Director of Centre ICE. “There’s people who come for the first time, and they see it, and they can’t believe how close they can get to the players. How lucky we are in Traverse City that the Wings pick us. It’s very cool.”
The impact of the Red Wings coming to Traverse City is huge from a financial standpoint. That boon is felt at the arena, but also throughout the city from hotels, to restaurants, to gas stations.
“It’s huge for us at the rink,” said Marchand. “The year before, with them not coming, it made it very, very hard on the rink. We put off a lot of things that we wanted to do with the physical plan and other things. By them coming back it helped us keep our ice fees at the lowest possible level. The staff has a lot of pride in being able to put on these events. For the city itself it’s millions of dollars in income during those two weeks.”
The Red Wings gave fans something to cheer about throughout their stay. First, they won the Prospects Tournament for the first time, defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 in the title game. Then they put on a show over four days, wrapping up with a intrasquad scrimmage that was decided in a shootout.
“We had fun up here. It’s fun to be up here and see everyone here again,” said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg.
With a measure of labor stability in the NHL, fans can expect to see the Red Wings again in 2014.
“They’ve promised us that they would be back,” said Marchand. “I think as long as Ken Holland’s the GM they’re not going to go anywhere else. We treat them too good. The city, all the volunteers. They love it here and it’s a great start to the season for them.”