Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 10/20/11
DETROIT -- If the Detroit Red Wings capture this year's Stanley Cup, their success could be rooted in a hard table divided by a net, a hollow ball and a couple of paddles. Pingpong has become the rage among Red Wings players, with intensely competitive matches going on before and after practice -- trash-talk included -- in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena. "It (pingpong) came up from Traverse City this year. It's a management thing," Henrik Zetterberg said when asked how the phenomenon got started. "The scouts and general managers kind of got bored watching us practice so, all of a sudden, they started playing pingpong all the time. "I'm not going to 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 pingpong tables." "When it comes from higher up, things happen fast." Zetterberg isn't a big table tennis 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," Zetterberg said, jokingly assessing his chances. "(Ty) Conklin is probably the best; he's No. 1. Patty Eaves is up there and Mule (Johan Franzen). They're on a different level." "Then there's Clears (Cleary), the self-proclaimed No. 1." With so much time off -- a five-day break between their Oct. 15 overtime win over the Wild and their home game Friday against the Blue Jackets -- the Wings have been trying a number of things to keep themselves occupied. Pingpong has been the one diversion the whole team has embraced. Matches spring up before and after practice, and every player knows his 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 pingpong actually can make a hockey player better. "I think it can (make you 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." How does Lidstrom see the team tournament 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 pingpong abilities. Each admitted that he is 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. "That's my goal right now," Eaves said about winning the tournament. "We've got a lot of good players on this team, and Mr. Holland (GM Ken Holland) is all excited about it. "There's a scoreboard going up. It will be a good time. It will be fun." Eaves began playing pingpong 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 couldn't go to school for a year, so my dad bought me a pingpong machine and set me up at one end and I could play. "It was kind of like a tennis ball-shooting machine. That's how I learned to play." Eaves hope one day to join a pingpong club to fine-tune his game. For now, he wants to concentrate on hockey and beating his teammates. Cleary concedes that Eaves, Conklin and Franzen may be a tiny bit better than him, but he still feels he can win the tournament. "It's a bit frustrating," Cleary said. "You always want to be the best, but you never know. "We've got these rankings. You could catch a guy on a bad day." While pingpong has been an excellent way for the Wings to bond and have friendly competition with one another, it's abundantly clear that they need to play a hockey game soon -- the sooner the better.
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