TRAVERSE CITY -- Jim McCarty recognizes nearly all of the Detroit Red Wings players who hover around Centre ICE arena this time of year for the team's annual training camp.
The die-hard Wings fan and Bay City resident missed just one camp since the team began coming north in 1997, and said some of the players recognize him, as well.
"Ozzie says to my wife, 'Come on pink lady, it's time to get our picture taken,'" McCarty said, referring to his wife's pink-and-white jersey and goalie Chris Osgood. "It's almost like he's looking forward to getting his picture taken."
McCarty, 51, and hundreds of other fans from across the region and state packed Centre ICE Sunday for a chance to watch the team in action. Players, coaches and support staff mingled with fans, who gushed about the training camp's "intimate environment."
McCarty was among the fans who clutched jerseys, hats, programs and other items in hopes of an autograph or two outside the arena. Players periodically wandered out to greet the crowd.
"When you go to a game at (Joe Louis Arena), the security doesn't allow you to get near the players," McCarty said. "When you come here, the players want to come out."
Ovid resident Connie Underhill, who has traveled to Traverse City for the camp every year since 1999, agrees.
"At the beginning of the week, their eyes light up when they come out that green door," she said. "They come right over to sign autographs."
The players frequently are spotted around town during training camp, giving area residents something to be excited about.
"(One year) I saw Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan eating wings at the U & I (Lounge)," said Traverse City resident Bill Thompson, who for 11 years has volunteered to sell programs during camp. "Things like that, in a town that's hockey hungry, you don't forget."
Players enjoy the visit, too. Detroit forward Jason Williams has fond memories of multiple trips to the region.
"It's a great place to have training camp," Williams said. "It's got great golf courses, and the people here, every time we come here they treat us with the utmost respect. They make the few days we're here very exciting and enjoyable."
Traverse City resident Ashley Dotson, 18, stood in the autograph area with a custom-made "I Love Maltby and Franzen" T-shirt, a tribute to stars Kirk Maltby and Johan Franzen.
"It's really cool," she said of the Wings holding their camp in the region. "Nobody really big ever comes to Traverse City, so it's the biggest thing of the year when the Red Wings come."
Warren resident Lyle Downing, 23, was among many fans who came from downstate. He'll be a scant 15 minutes away from Joe Louis Arena throughout the season, but still left Warren at 4 a.m. Sunday so he could he could make it in time for camp.
It's a chance to get an up close and look at the 2009-10 team, Downing said.
"You get to see what's brewing for the season," he said. "You get a look at your whole team, inside and out."
Sports writer Mike Eckert contributed to this story.