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The Wings are back in TC

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Diehard fans, star-struck kids flood TC

Players also enjoy annual visit to TC

By BILL O'BRIEN

Record-Eagle staff writer

TRAVERSE CITY - Kayla Parent, of Bay City, squeezed against the metal railing to fire off a snapshot of her favorite Detroit Red Wings player.

And then another, and another. She was already on her tenth roll of film - and it's only the first day of training camp in Traverse City.

"This is the best seat to have - we learned that last year," said Parent, 17, of her row-end perch, as Red Wings players shuttle by just a few feet away during Friday's morning workout.

Parent and her aunt, Ann Borucki, watch dozens of pro hockey games each year as season ticket holders at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. But they agree there's nothing like the reach-out-and-touch feeling that comes from being at the Wings' training camp.

"You get to be right in the action here, not so far away," Borucki said. "It's much more personal than the regular season. ... (The players) are so nice and really seem to enjoy all the fans."

More than 1,500 Red Wings lovers traveled from all across Michigan to welcome their favorite team back to the ice. Kids skipped school, families took long weekends and professional folks juggled schedules to make the yearly pilgrimage to Centre ICE arena.

"I came up here and stood in line for four hours to get tickets," said Lorraine Kowalczyk, of West Branch. She and husband Wally are at their fourth-straight training camp and, she says, "we're going to do it as long as we can."

Wings forward Kirk Maltby said the team likes Traverse City just fine.

"It's a great experience; that's why we keep coming back," said Maltby, who golfs and fishes for salmon while in northern Michigan.

"I think everybody you would ask in that locker room would tell you they enjoy coming up here."

It's difficult to say who enjoys it more - the die-hard fans who come back year after year or the wide-eyed youngsters seeing it all for the first time.

"It's even cooler than I thought it would be," says 9-year-old Lucas Little, taking in his inaugural training camp with father Dave Little, of Traverse City. Lucas is in his first year of playing youth hockey and said watching his professional heroes makes him excited to get on the ice.

"We haven't seen them play (in Detroit), so it's the perfect opportunity to see the guys up close," his father said.

Training camp means the end of the off-season vacation for the team, but players and management alike say late summer here is a good way to ease back into work.

"I think it's the one week of the year that everyone in our organization looks forward to," said general manager Ken Holland, pausing briefly as he hustles through the arena. "The way everyone rolls out the red carpet for us up here every year - it's wonderful."

Off-ice activity at camp is equally hectic. Lisa Verdoni, of Saginaw, said it was a busy morning in the merchandise store, where the sweater of Henrik Zetterberg - a second-year player many believe is a budding star - is a surprise early sell-out.

"When we first opened, they were lined up outside," said Verdoni. She's a middle-school math teacher who's among the scores of volunteers widely praised by arena and Red Wing officials for the camp's near-seamless operation.

"The best part of the whole thing is watching all the kids walk by and point at the jerseys," she said.

The only thing better would be if this time next year, she could point to a Stanley Cup.

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