By JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Cherry Festival-goers can get a little extra experience in this year's visit to Traverse City.
And TC residents will have a little more incentive to stick around — or another escape from downtown.
The Detroit Red Wings Development Camp will be returning to Centre ICE Arena next summer for its second Traverse City installment, and the event will occur in the same week as Cherry Festival.
The announcement of the Red Wings' return to Traverse City comes on the heels of another big year for the franchise — with is No. 9 on the Record-Eagle's top sports stories of 2011.
"It's great for Traverse City," Red Wings Training Camp director Ann Reeves said. "We're trying to get right up there with the Cherry Festival and Film Festival. We're not there yet, but we're working on it."
The 2012 Development Camp is slated for July 6-14, nearly identical to the Cherry Fest schedule of July 7-14.
"So they'll do the same routine as last year, around 40 prospects from around the world, focusing on a lot of kids that are from the Swedish Elite League teams," Reeves said.
Many of the Swedish leagues start well in advance of the NHL season, so it's sometimes difficult to get their players to attend the NHL Prospects Tournament or Wings' training camp.
The Prospects Tournament is slated for Sept. 15-19, with one off day in the middle.
Red Wings training camp kicks off with the annual golf outing at the Grand Traverse Resort on Sept. 21, followed by three full days of practices, workouts and scrimmages before the Sept. 25 Red & White game. The players will have a morning skate on Sept. 26 before leaving for an exhibition game in Pittsburgh and coming back to TC for one last practice session Sept. 27.
All of the dates are dependent upon the NHL ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement, as the current CBA expires next summer. That doesn't appear to be a major concern, Reeves said.
"Because the Development Camp came to us (on short notice last year), I really leaned heavily on our volunteers for support, which I can always do," Reeves said. "They are fabulous."
With more time to prepare for it this year, Reeves said it could be enhanced the next time around.
That could apply to the Prospects Tournament as well, which could be getting more television coverage. Last year's four New York Rangers games were broadcast on the Madison Square Garden Network, and picked up by the NHL Network.
This time around, Reeves said the camp is working on having the NHL Network pick up games other than just the Rangers, and Fox Sports Detroit could be a possibility.
"That would be huge," Reeves said. "We don't want to take away from our fans that come up from Detroit. But for those folks that just can't get away, it'd be nice for it to be on Fox Sports Detroit."
The camp had to raise $200,000 to broadcast the games, Reeves said. That money was mainly brought in from sponsors.
"Now, a lot of those teams who weren't included this year came up to me and said, 'Hey, how come we weren't included?'" Reeves said. "Really it was a time game. And now that they want to be included and offering up their sales teams, we're hoping to be able to expand the coverage. MSG is on board again. We're negotiating with NHL Network and perhaps Fox Sports Detroit. So we may be able to get the whole thing broadcast, but it's a matter of timing and sponsorship."
The prospects tournament features eight teams who bring their top minor-leaguers, draft picks and tryout players to Traverse City. In addition to the Red Wings, the field consists of the Rangers, Columbus, St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota, Carolina and Buffalo, which won last year's tournament championship in its Traverse City debut with a 5-2 win over the Rangers.
"There are other (similar) tournaments that go on at the same time," Reeves said. "And I've heard from other teams as well as sponsors and folks coming to our tournament that (ours) is a first-class tournament, top-notch, bar none better than any other tournament being held at the same time. So as long as we can continue to keep that type of tournament going, I think we're going to get the crowds, get the networks to come in and get the exposure."