Tough on the ice, the Detroit Red Wings showed their softer side Friday when they rang bells and raised $17,150 for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign throughout Metro Detroit.
Six players, the team’s coach and general manager took some time away from their NHL Central Division race and collected donations for about two hours Friday in Plymouth, Troy, Northville and Birmingham, allowing fans a chance to get personal with their favorite Red Wings while giving a boost to the Salvation Army’s holiday fundraising.
At the Plymouth Kroger, fans filed outside the door and around the store to donate money and get autographs from — and photographs with — Red Wings Drew Miller and Valtteri Filppula.
For Miller, who grew up in East Lansing, being able to give back to families in his home state was special.
“Whatever team you’re playing for, you want to help give back to that community for supporting the team,” he said. “But for me, being from Michigan and going to Michigan State for college, it means a lot to give back to the state.”
Miller, who appeared at the same Kroger store in 2010, said this year’s turnout appeared to be stronger than the previous year’s appearance. He said he and his teammates generally don’t shy away from helping the Metro Detroit community.
“The team tries to get out to the community a lot, especially now when times are tight and pockets are not as full,” he said. “You can get out and raise money for the families that really need it. A little bit of our time can go a long way to help the cause.”
Filppula said the appearance is a great way to help the Salvation Army.
“It’s really important and I’m happy to be a part of it,” he said.
For Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who appeared at Hiller's Market in Northville with the team’s general manager Ken Holland, a perk of the effort is the ability to give back to the fans who support the team year-round. The two came out on top this year, regaining their title by raising $9,761.
"Obviously it's a great cause," Babcock said, adding that it's especially important as tough economic times have hit Michigan.
"We're supported so well by the community and the state, that we're showing our support,” he said. "People need shelter and food, so the Salvation Army steps in."
In Birmingham, Red Wings prospects Cory Emmerton and Jakub Kindl were stationed outside the Kroger at the corner of Maple and Woodward. Besides donating to the Salvation Army, fans were able to receive signed autographs with an additional $10 donation.
Emmerton said he believes this is an important event.
"There's definitely a lot of families that don't have shelter or food," he said. "It's always good to give back in any way, shape or form."
Fans turn out to help cause, meet favorite players
Each location where the Red Wings appeared Friday drew long lines of fans decked out in jerseys and team apparel, who braved the frigid December air for a close-up encounter with their hockey heroes.
"It's cold," laughed Kal Buckles of Troy, who waited outside Hockeytown Authentics to meet Abdelkader and Helm. Still, she said, “It’s a great cause.”
Some fans made it a point to stop at several of the locations where players were appearing.
Amanda Murray of Shelby Township went to Hockeytown Authentics, just one stop on her way to meet several Wings players.
“I’m just a huge fan,” she said. “I come to all these events.”
She said she was headed to the Plymouth Kroger to meet Filppula and Miller next.
“We wanted to say hi to a couple of our favorite players, get some autographs and support a good cause,” said Tom Spring of Royal Oak, who visited Hockeytown Authentics with his son Nathan, 7.
Some fans took their adoration of the players seriously.
“I’m just here to see Valtteri Filppula,” said Jan Wisniewski, a University of Michigan student and native of South Korea, who was visiting the Plymouth Kroger store. “I even have a site for Scandinavian hockey players.”
Filppula is a native of Finland, often associated with Scandinavian nations.
Wisniewski’s website, she said, highlights her adoration of Nordic hockey players she characterizes as “hot.” She had both Miller and Filppula sign the exterior of her MacBook Air computer.
Kasie Parr of Canton brought her children Reed, 6, and Ashlyn, 3, to the Plymouth location to get hockey pucks autographed by Filppula and Miller.
“It’s just for a good cause and the kids can see the hockey players,” she said.
Salvation Army appreciates help from stars
Maj. Dan Hull of the Salvation Army said each year the Red Wings’ bell-ringing effort yields “several thousand” dollars, and the goal for this effort was to raise about $2,000 in each of the four locations.
Hull said the Red Wings have participated in the Red Kettle Campaign each of his three years in his post with the organization, and each has provided a sizable boost for the organization. He said the total amount raised at this year’s event should be calculated by midnight.
John Hale, development director for the Salvation Army, attended the fundraising effort at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy with Red Wings Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, and also performed with the Salvation Army band outside the store.
Hale said the Troy store is the "official" autograph location for Red Wings players and tends to get a large turnout each year. "I think it's great," he said of the turnout. "It's important because the need has never been greater."
He added that the donations will help provide food, toys and gifts for families.
"It's just really important this time of year."