Derek Lalonde has mixed emotions as Red Wings visit blizzard-ravaged Buffalo

Detroit News

Buffalo, N.Y. — Derek Lalonde doesn’t hide his feelings about western New York.

The Red Wings’ coach was born in upstate New York, has a lot of family and friends in the area, and of course loves the Buffalo Bills.

So it’s always special when the Red Wings play here, Thursday for the second time this season in Buffalo.

But this particular visit had some mixed emotions, given the toll of last weekend’s blizzard that left 39 confirmed deaths (31 of them in Buffalo) and paralyzed the region for almost a week.

The Buffalo airport re-opened Wednesday, a driving ban was lifted Thursday morning, and the Sabres announced late Wednesday the game against the Wings was officially going to take place.

Walking around the downtown area, the game appeared to bring a touch of normalcy to what has been anything but normal times, even for winter in Buffalo.

“Everyone felt it here,” Lalonde said of the blizzard, which he added affected many of his family and friends. “It was different for different towns. But it’s been tough to watch with the numbers, and death tolls, and stuff like that. Hopefully they will be coming out of it.”

An aspect of the tragedy was the impressive, long list of acts of compassion, heroism and helping the less fortunate that have dominated the Buffalo news stories these past few days.

But Lalonde isn’t surprised by the gestures of goodwill.

“That’s New York people,” Lalonde said. “That’s upstate New York people, that’s western New York people. Good people.”

Lalonde actually expected quite a few people from his hometown of Brasher Falls.

“A lot of friends in town, they’re coming over from my hometown which is a five-hour drive, which is all pretty exciting,” Lalonde said. “I’m a New Yorker and my heart is in New York. You guys know my affection with our Buffalo Bills, so of course you take all that very personal. I went to school right down the road from here and knew a lot of people and a lot of people from this area.”

Husso ill

Lalonde was considering going back to goaltender Ville Husso on Thursday after Husso was lifted after one period Wednesday in Pittsburgh, with the Wings trailing, in favor of Magnus Hellberg.

But Husso was unavailable to face the Sabres, so Hellberg got the start, with Alex Nedeljkovic backing up.

“Husso is unavailable; he’s a little under the weather,” Lalonde said. “We had the full intention of having him as an option (Thursday) but he woke up (ill) and not an option. He’ll be day to day.”

Hellberg stopped all 19 shots he faced in Pittsburgh, denied Sidney Crosby on a breakway in the second period, and made a key save in overtime that started the Wings the other way with Jake Walman scoring the game-winning goal.

Lalonde has liked the “confidence” Hellberg has shown in his brief appearances.

“He has a lot of energy,” Lalonde said. “He’s a big goalie, and even last night he didn’t get a ton of volume (shots), but he was sharp in it and he was big, had a couple of shoulder saves. The one in overtime was labeled for bar down and he makes it look easy and we turn the save into transition and winning in overtime.”

Vrana debut in Grand Rapids

Jakub Vrana made his Grand Rapids Griffins debut Wednesday in the Griffins’ 4-1 loss in Rockford.

Vrana had two shots on net, didn’t get on the scoresheet, and was a minus-two (the AHL doesn’t keep ice time).

Talking with Griffins’ staff, Lalonde got a favorable, but expected report.

“It was good; it looked like he was getting his way back,” Lalonde said. “He looked like he hadn’t played hockey in a long time. It just confirmed that we were going about the correct process of giving him game like opportunities.”

Vrana only played two games to begin the season before entering the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program that kept him from the Wings for two months. Once Vrana returns to the Wings’ lineup, he’ll be expected to manage his game at both ends of the rink, something Lalonde has stressed with all the Wings.

“We’re on a three-game point streak here,” said Lalonde, noting Vrana’s tendency to play a looser, prone-to-turnover type of game. “We’re going to ask him to do exactly what everybody has done, manage his game. He’ll be just like anybody else on the team. We’ll ask him to manage his game.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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