The smile was warm enough to melt the ice at Joe Louis Arena. Not to mention a few thousand hearts.
Detroit defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov paid a visit to the Red Wings on Saturday. Clearly, he was glad he was back. So were the Red Wings."Anytime you see him, you can't help but smile," Detroit forward Kirk Maltby said. "We just want him to know we're thinking about him all the time. You know he's happy to be back in the locker room."
Still, this wasn't the "Vladinator" that Red Wings fans have come to know and love. Konstantinov, 31, is still recovering from last summer's limousine crash that left him with debilitating head injuries.
"He is very excited to be here," Konstantinov's wife, Irina said. "We can tell that he is very happy. But he's now a different person from the day before the injury and the day after the injury. He's absolutely himself."
Konstantinov, who is expected to attend today's playoff game between the Red Wings and Dallas Stars, returned Friday from Florida where he spent six months at a rehabilitation center. He arrived in the arena in a black Mercedes-Benz. Arena security clearly had been preparing for him.
The car, flanked by guards, entered through a huge delivery door at the end of the building and drove through the cavernous concourse under the stands, delivering him right to the Red Wings clubhouse.
"We just want to see him as a buddy," forward Brendan Shana-han said. "We're not turning this into a rah-rah thing to go out on the ice."
Later, accompanied by his wife and Red Wings trainer John Wharton, Konstantinov met with reporters for about 10 minutes.
The Red Wings hadn't seen Konstantinov since their February road trip to Florida. Before Saturday, he had visited Joe Louis Arena only once since the accident - for a practice early in the season, before going to Florida.