Say it ain’t so, Joe.
Like many, I was saddened to learn the city of Detroit will raze Joe Louis Arena and give the land to a creditor as part of a settlement in the city’s bankruptcy case.
Not that the old Joe wasn’t getting long in the tooth.
In one of those isn’t-it-amazing-how-time-flies scenarios, it seems like only yesterday I made my first trip to JLA to watch the Detroit Red Wings play a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. I was actually covering junior hockey for the Peterborough Examiner and the Petes had a game in Windsor on a Sunday afternoon. The team went down a day early and attended the Red Wings-Flyers game as special guests of Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman, of course, played two seasons in Peterborough before departing for the NHL at the tender age 18 and promptly became the Red Wings' leading scorer in his rookie season. He was soon to become the youngest captain in NHL history and would wind up having a Hall of Fame career, during which he won the Stanley Cup three times. Joe Louis Arena is located at 19 Steve Yzerman Drive.
What I remember most that day is being positioned in the penalty box to take photos for the feature I was writing about Yzerman and how fast the action was at ice level. I also recall my old pal, radio announcer Bill Bennett, tripping up the stairs while carrying a beer in each hand yet not spilling a drop.
Over the years JLA has been a significant arena for me in that I attended 15 of the 16 Stanley Cup final games played in Detroit since it opened Dec. 12, 1979. More than that, it has special meaning because my sons, Chase and Darryl, were lucky enough to attend Cup final games there, too.
Chase was on hand the night the Red Wings captured the Cup in 2002 and Scotty Bowman announced his retirement from coaching. It is a night, he insisted afterwards, he would never forget.
Darryl, on the other hand, did not get to see the Cup presented, but did see a phenomenal game that went into the third overtime period before Petr Sykora scored to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory on June 2, 2008.
Darryl also accompanied me to Detroit when he was 12 as I interviewed Brett Hull for a story about 10 ways Hull would change hockey if he were in charge. When Darryl was much younger, he asked his mother and me if he could change his name to Sergei after his favorite player, Sergei Fedorov. When I told this to Fedorov he laughed and offered Darryl one of his hockey sticks. Fedorov didn’t just hand him a stick; he took Darryl into the stick room, cut one down to Darryl’s size and taped it for him. Darryl used the stick for a few games and scored a handful of goals before deciding it was too valuable to risk breaking it in a game.
While I interviewed Hull, a few of the Red Wings' players kept Darryl company. He was completely star struck. Veteran Brendan Shanahan even offered to take him for a burger, but Darryl, being too shy, declined. Fast-forward to the day Shanahan was named president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I receive a text from Darryl that reads: "Tell 'Shanny' I’ll go for that burger now."
Joe Louis Arena was one of hockey’s most modern rinks when it opened but is decidedly behind the times now. The Red Wings have been a model franchise in the NHL for years and deserve better. A new rink will be built a few miles away.
They can take away the building, but the memories will last forever.