By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Craig Wolanin has been driving to Muskegon a lot over the past two winters, to watch his son Christian play for the Lumberjacks.
The Jacks are on the road this weekend, so Wolanin could have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend some quiet time at home in the Detroit area.
But instead he’ll be making the drive back to Muskegon to rejoin the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Team as it renews its rivalry with the Muskegon Alumni Team on Saturday at 7 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena.
It’s something Wolanin doesn’t get to do as much anymore, and he’s looking forward to it.
“I never played for the Red Wings, but I’ve been skating with the Wings alumni for about 15 years or so, and I usually play 15 to 20 games per year, but not this year.” said Wolanin, who spent 13 years in the National Hockey League with various teams, collecting 40 goals and 133 assists and winning a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 1996.
“Most of the alumni games are on the weekends, and a lot of our weekends are spent in Muskegon, so I haven’t been able to make as many as I’d like. There’s a comradery among hockey players that few other sports can sustain. This allows you to stay in the game and nurture relationships you have in the game.
“Plus Muskegon has become a special area for us. We’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent there. And the Red Wings and Lumberjacks both have storied histories, so if I can help them both out at the same time I’m going to do it.”
Wolanin will play on a Red Wing Alumni team full of former Detroit stars, including Mickey Redmond, Joey Kocur, John Ogrodnick, Peter Klima and Jimmy Carson.
They will play a Muskegon team with a bunch of former players from the professional Fury and Lumberjack days, including Robin Bouchard, Rob Melanson, Scott Feasby, Mark Vilneff, Todd Robinson, Jeff Nelson and Billy Collins.
Tickets for adults are $12 and $10, with a special $7 admission for youngsters up to 12 years of age. Fans can also purchase a $25 VIP pass, which includes a ticket to the game and admission to a postgame “meet and greet” reception with the players at the Muskegon Harbor Holiday Inn.
Proceeds from the game will benefit the Muskegon Lumberjacks Charitable Foundation.
As Lumberjacks radio announcer Bryan Fongers put it, the exhibibition game “is like an All-Star game, showcasing some of the best hockey talent from the past.”
But the fact that they’re retired doesn’t mean the players won’t be trying to win. Their competitive fire still burns and everyone wants bragging rights when it’s all said and done.
The Muskegon Alumni won the first matchup between the teams in 2011 while the Red Wings Alumni got even with a win last year.
“I think it’s competitive to an extent,” Wolanin said. “You always kind of want to win, but not at all costs like it used to be. In addition to benefitting the charities, the most important thing is getting off the ice healthy.
“We usually win our games, but I’ve played in several, including one in Muskegon, when we got our butts kicked. I’d rather play in close games. It gets your blood flowing a little more. It’s just fun to play at a decent level again.”