Golden Knights officials remember Red Wings’ longtime home
Joe Louis Arena, the longtime home of the Detroit Red Wings, closes its doors Sunday after 38 years, and the memories still linger for those who played there.
April 7, 2017 - 9:31 am
Updated April 7, 2017 - 7:20 pm
Whether you’re a Detroit native or a hockey fan halfway around the world, when you hear “The Joe” mentioned, you know what it is. Joe Louis Arena, the longtime home of the Detroit Red Wings, is closing its doors Sunday after a 38-year run.
The Red Wings, who had their own magnificent postseason run of 25 years, saw that streak end when they were recently eliminated from playoff contention. They move into their new downtown building, Little Caesars Arena, this fall.
Several Golden Knights executives and scouts have fond memories of playing in The Joe, some as Red Wings, some as the visitor. But they remember the old barn as a place where you could feel the passion of the fans and the home team definitely had an edge.
“I remember how lively the boards were,” said Knights senior vice president Murray Craven, who broke into the NHL with the Red Wings in 1982. “I loved how the puck would come right back to you when you shot it a certain way.
“I always thought it was a nice edge for the Red Wings, and they took advantage of that.”
Knights NHL scout Mike Foligno broke in with the Red Wings in 1979, the same year as Joe Louis Arena opened.
“My best and most memorable events that stayed with me my whole life happened at training camp,” Foligno said. “Our medical trainer, Lefty Wilson, was walking through our dressing room as we were getting ready for an early on-ice sessions. As I was starting to put my equipment on, I asked, ‘What time is it?’
“Well, just as I asked that question, Lefty Wilson turned the corner with a sponge baseball bat on his shoulder. Lefty took a swing at me with that sponge baseball bat and said: ‘What time is it? Kid! It’s the best time of your life and don’t you forget it!’ That quote from Lefty has stayed with me for the last 38 years, and I have not only lived it every day but have repeated it to many others since then.”
Knights general manager George McPhee remembers the fans willing the Red Wings to victory in the playoffs when he was the GM in Washington.
“My most vivid Joe Louis memory was that of the Red Wing fans inspiring the team to victory,” McPhee said. “It was in Game 2 of Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, the Capitals were leading 4-2 midway through the third period when Esa Tikkanen intercepted a pass and on a partial breakaway pump-faked the goaltender to the ice for a wide-open net. The goal would have sealed the game and tied the series at 1-1.
“He inexplicably missed. At that moment, the Wings’ fans responded with encouragement, some standing, that turned into a knowing roar. The team was still in it, and they let them know it. The Wings responded with a comeback OT win that was the turning point in the series. That response from a knowledgeable hockey crowd affected the game and series.”
Kelly McCrimmon, the Knights’ assistant GM, played in Joe Louis Arena as a collegian.
“I played in the Great Lakes Invitational when I was at Michigan,” McCrimmon said. “The arena was pretty new at the time, which made it real exciting.”
Eric Tosi, the Golden Knights’ vice president of communications, made many trips to The Joe with the Boston Bruins. He remembers the people who worked in the building that made it a special place to visit.
“One of the most enjoyable and entertaining conversations I have had in hockey was with Al Sobotka, who has been the building operations manager and the Zamboni driver at Joe Louis Arena since it opened,” Tosi said. “He is a legend in Detroit, famous for picking up octopus on the ice during Wings playoff games and twirling it above his head to get the crowd going.”
Even when it was new, The Joe felt like a broken-in home in an old neighborhood. There were few frills to the place. But the sightlines were great to watch hockey, and The Joe created its own history. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups while playing there and made the Finals six times.
“It didn’t have the mystique of the Forum in Montreal or Maple Leaf Gardens,” Craven said. “But it had great pizza. They put a little something extra in the pizza, and you’d always want to grab a couple of slices after the games.”
Contact Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.