Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 10/20/11
If the Detroit Red Wings capture this years Stanley Cup, their success could be rooted in a hard table divided by a net, a hollow ball and a couple of paddles. Ping-pong has become the rage among Red Wings players, with intensely competitive matches going on before and after practice -- trash-talk included. It (ping-pong) came up from Traverse City this year. Its a management thing, Henrik Zetterberg said when asked how the ping-pong phenomena got started. The scouts and general managers kind of got bored watching us practice, so;all of a sudden, they started playing ping-pong all the time. Im not going throw any names out, but a guy pretty high up in the system said that he wanted them for the Joe, and the first day back from Traverse City we had two Ping-Pong tables. When it comes from higher up, things happen fast. Zetterberg isn't a big ping-pong player and actually gave his table to teammate Dan Cleary three years ago. But Zetterberg is engrossed in the team tournament coming up soon and is more than willing to handicap the field. I will come in with the money and go out with no money, is how Zetterberg jokingly assessed his chances. (Ty) Conklin is probably the best; hes number one. Patty Eaves is up there and Mule (Johan Franzen). Theyre on a different level. Then theres Clears (Cleary), the self-proclaimed number one. With so much time off -- a five-day break between games -- the Wings have been trying a number of things to keep themselves occupied, and ping-pong has been the one diversion that the whole team has embraced. Matches spring up before and after practice, and every player knows their overall record. The competition is fierce, which gives you a better understanding of why the Red Wings have been at the top or near the top of the NHL standings for decades. Each player hates to lose -- period. Captain Nick Lidstrom believes ping-pong can actually make a hockey player better. I think it (ping-pong) can (make you a better) -- your reaction time, your quickness and your decision making, too," he said. "You have to know where you want to put the ball before you hit it sometimes, and the same thing on the ice. There are some similarities. You have to make quick decisions. With the team tournament looming, which will feature a leader board, how does Lidstrom see the ping-pong challenge shaking out? Word on the street is that Patrick Eaves is the front-runner, but there are a lot of rumors swirling too, Lidstrom said. Eaves is the front-runner. Cleary as always is talking a big game, but it remains to be seen if he can step up. Franzen and Conklin downplayed their ping-pong abilities. Each admitted that theyre good but not the best. Franzen confessed that he can put a wicked spin on the ball and to laughing at Zetterberg when he moves one way and the ball goes another way. Yet, most of the Wings -- outside of Cleary -- believe Eaves is the best. Thats my goal right now, Eaves said about winning the tournament. Weve got a lot of good players on this team, and Mr. Holland (GM Ken Holland) is all excited about it. "Theres a scoreboard going up. It will be a good time. It will be fun. Eaves began playing ping-pong when he was 7 years old. I broke my back when I was 7, and they put me in a body cast," he said. "I couldnt go to school for a year, so my dad bought me a ping-pong machine and set me up at one end and I could play. "It was kind of like a tennis ball-shooting machine. Thats how I learned to play.". Eaves hope to one day join a ping-pong club to fine tune his game. For now, he wants to concentrate on hockey and beating his teammates. Cleary will concede that Eaves, Conklin and Franzen may be a tiny bit better at Ping-Pong than him, but he still feels that he could win the tournament. Its a bit frustrating," Cleary said. "You always want to be the best, but you never know. "Weve got these rankings. You could catch a guy on a bad day. While ping-pong has been an excellent way for the Wings to bond and have a friendly competition with each other, its abundantly clear that they need to play a hockey game soon -- the sooner the better.
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