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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Red Wings finalize roster

DETROIT -- Aaron Downey, Matt Ellis and Derek Meech were the last three Red Wings off the ice after Monday's practice at Joe Louis Arena, following a tradition in hockey among newcomers.
But that extra work is fine with Downey, Ellis and Meech. The three were informed before Monday's practice that they had made the Red Wings' season-opening roster of 23 players.
Downey started taking his equipment off in the locker room and spotted five reporters standing nearby.
"OK, which one of you wants to interview me first?" said Downey very loudly.
Ellis and Meech smiled.
"I was born on a farm and I …" joked Downey.
Ellis and Meech laughed out loud.
"His attitude is why he's here," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock of Downey. "He sticks up for his teammates, gives us something we don't have in the organization."
Not since last October, at least. Downey being offered a two-way contract, Monday, parallels the Red Wings keeping Brad Norton last October. Norton had four of the Wings' 10 fighting majors last season and did that in just six games before being demoted to Grand Rapids.
Downey and Meech sticking with the Red Wings meant that Igor Grigorenko was sent to Grand Rapids, ending the most interesting roster battle of the preseason. Forward Mark Hartigan was put on waivers with the purpose of sending him to Grand Rapids as well.
Grigorenko, 24, is a skilled forward who has shined in the Russian Super League. His preseason play, however, was no more than adequate as he adjusted to life on and off the ice in North America.
What also makes Grigorenko's status interesting is that his contract has a clause that allows him to opt out of his Detroit deal if he's in the minor leagues for more than three weeks.
"We really like him," said Babcock. "We want him to play for our NHL team. We've got to find a way for him to be the best player he can be as quickly as possible. There are a couple of options. One, he could stay here and practice and not get in (the lineup). The one we like better is him actually playing and then getting back here, getting his pace and his game. It's no good just sitting here. Now he's got to get his mind wrapped around that and embrace being (in Grand Rapids) or else you don't get better. Otherwise it's just a waste of time."
Meech was labeled as the Red Wings' seventh defenseman (six dress for most games) by management over the weekend, but he wasn't told officially until yesterday. The 23-year-old spent four games with Detroit last year and was an American Hockey League all-star with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"Last year, I played a bigger role in Grand Rapids that I settled into and I had a good season," said Meech. "This year, I was determined to stay here (in Detroit) all year. Right now, I'm on the right track, but I'm on edge all the time. I don't want to get comfortable."
Ellis, 26, captained the Griffins last winter and played in 16 games with the Red Wings. The father of a 7-month-old, Ellis toiled in the minors for the past four seasons.
"You never know for sure until you hear it," said Ellis. "I figured (Monday) morning would be the day to find out for sure. Over breakfast, (I) kind of had those feelings in the stomach not knowing what to expect."
Downey came to training camp as a free-agent tryout with seven seasons of NHL experience. Downey, Jassen Cullimore and Brent Sopel were the three veterans brought in the by Red Wings as tryouts. Cullimore was an early cut. Sopel was offered a contract, but signed with the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday.
Downey came to the rink Monday morning and was offered a two-way contract, meaning that he would be paid a lower salary if he was demoted to Grand Rapids. Downey is the only Red Wing with the reputation as a fighter, having 35 regular-season fighting majors in his career.
"A two-way deal gives them a little more flexibility in case some time down the road things don't work out," said Downey. "Being around the game a long time now, I understand the situation. But it's an opportunity and it's a tremendous feeling now. … This is the Detroit Red Wings. To be able to make this hockey team is a special feeling."


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