TRAVERSE CITY — To Jim and Sue McCarty, the Detroit Red Wings are more than just a hockey team.
"We love hockey," said Jim McCarty, as he waited outside Centre ICE for player autographs at the team's training camp opener Thursday. "But the Red Wings have gone way overboard for us personally. They've done a lot of very nice things for us and we're forever grateful."
The McCartys work hospice in the Bay City area. They often raise money, and spirits, for grief-stricken families. The Red Wings have helped immensely.
"We've had benefits and the Red Wings have always come through with something that we could use for silent auctions," McCarty said. "I had a friend pass away in March and (Wings GM) Ken Holland called me personally. He wanted me to meet him for one of the games. He wanted me to come up to his suite so he could hook me up with the stuff he was going to give me for the benefit. Unfortunately, it was Ash Wednesday, and my commitment was to be in church. Kenny still came through and sent the stuff express mail and we got it the next day.
"When a guy calls you up on your personal cell phone and says, 'This is Kenny,' it gets your attention."
That man who died was a dear friend of McCarty's. His family needed money to pay the bills.
"He had cancer for 15 years," McCarty said. "Just a super, super nice guy. He had done any number of things for other people, so it was fitting we did this. We served 1,200 spaghetti dinners (at the banquet). The Red Wings jersey, though, was the big hit."
A Pavel Datsyuk signed jersey netted close to $1,500 in the auction. The team supplied other items as well.
"It was unbelievable," McCarty said. "The Red Wings are so in tune to people. It's not just the sport."
The McCartys also help with fundraising for a hospice grief camp. A golf scramble brings in money, as does a silent auction. Again, the Wings contribute.
"We've been able to present things to families who are big fans of the Red Wings, and to the patients before they pass away," he said. "One camp we had to leave early because the guy was getting very close. We were able to give him a cap that the whole team signed before he went non-responsive. He was actually buried with the hat on."
Before he passed, Sue McCarty pointed out all the signatures.
"He was impressed I knew who the players were," she said.
The McCarty's are September regulars at Centre ICE. The only camp they've missed is when Jim's father passed away.
"We come up and stay four days and make Traverse City rich with all of our money," he said, laughing.
And the two also connect with other Red Wings fans. On Thursday, they were in the company of Boyne City's Mark Zumbaugh and Keego Harbor's Paul Terrian and Denise Shiffler. Zumbaugh arrived at 6 a.m.
Before he went into the arena for practice, winger Mikael Samuelsson stopped and signed autographs.
"The guys are so cordial in coming over here and giving us autographs," Terrian said.
When he's not collecting autographs, Terrian enjoys watching the on-ice drills.
"You see the games, but you never see the drills at Joe Louis Arena, how (coach Mike) Babcock runs the whole program in there," he said. "That's fun to watch."
But securing autographs, that's fun, too, he said.
"I'm retired," he said. "I go to Florida in the winter. I get autographs from the visiting teams in Tampa. One year I had 513 autographs.
"I'm tapering off now," he added, laughing. "I'm getting older."
McCarty was trying to get a few autographs that he's missing for a 2008 Wings Stanley Cup championship book. Among those he still needed: Traverse City resident Dallas Drake.
Zumbaugh has the same book — and same autographs.
"I'm missing a few, too," he said.
Zumbaugh has a man cave devoted to Detroit sports.
"My Red Wings signatures far outnumber anything else I have," he said.