It’s time to say goodbye to Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings since 1979. Here are 19 reasons (in honor of Steve Yzerman) we’ll always remember The Joe.
1. Yzerman’s Double-Overtime Goal in Game Seven
The greatest moment in the history of The Joe was supplied by the greatest player to skate there. Yzerman’s 60-foot game-winning slap shot not only propelled the Wings to the Conference Finals, it triggered an eruption of joy in the building. The play featured three all-time greats: Yzerman, the Blues’ Wayne Gretzky (who gives a half-hearted effort on defense), and Slava Fetisov. The game featured 14 future Hall of Famers and remains an iconic moment in Detroit sports lore. The call, by Gary Thorne, is one of the best in NHL history.
2. Gordie’s return for the 1980 NHL All-Star Game
When Gordie Howe came to Detroit’s new Joe Louis Arena to play in the 1980 NHL All-Star Game for the Hartford Whalers, the former Red Wing was 52. But he was still lacing up his skates, passing the puck with his deft touch, and swinging his elbows when needed. He didn’t go to the All-Star Game as a sentimental favorite, he was still an impact player on the ice.
Detroit lost Gordie nearly a decade earlier when he first retired. But now they knew #9 would soon be hanging up his skates for good. The ovation Howe received during player inductions is spine-tinglingly awesome.
3. Fight Night
Championship seasons often turn on one key game, and so it was when the Red Wings finally snapped their 42-year Stanley Cup drought in the spring of 1997. “It becomes clearer with each passing night,” a Denver sportswriter observed during that year’s conference finals between Detroit and Colorado, “that the evening of March 26, 1997 changed the psychological dynamics of hockey’s most heated rivalry.”
The reporter was referring to “Fight Night at The Joe,” an awesome display of primal rage that unified a team in transition and served notice that this particular edition of Scotty Bowman’s team was not going to be shoved around, least of all by the Avalanche. The fights that took place that evening on the ice between the rivals were an exorcism of sorts for the Wings, who were poised to be champions.
4. The Russian Five
For two seasons in the mid-1990s, the Red Wings had five former members of the Russian Red Army team, five of the best skaters and hockey players in the world. In a rare move for the NHL, coach Scotty Bowman used the five together in two-minute shifts, playing not only the three-man line of Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov, but also Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov on defense.
In their first year together, the team won the Stanley Cup in their second season together. Sadly, six days after that Cup victory, Konstantinov was paralyzed after the limousine he was traveling in was in a horrible accident. The Russian Five were short-lived, but while they were together they transformed team play in the NHL.
5. Fedorov’s five-goal game
You have to watch it to believe it really happened.
6. Hoisting The Cup…finally
Twenty years ago, on June 7, 1997, the Wings finally snapped their Stanley Cup drought when they defeated the Flyers 2-1 in Game Four of the Finals. It completed a four-game sweep and gave Detroit their first Stanley Cup championship in 42 years.
7. Bowman behind the bench
For nine seasons from 1993 to 2002, the Red Wings had the greatest hockey coach in history behind their bench. The stone-faced Scotty led Detroit to four Stanley Cup Finals, winning three times. He was known for “the chin” and his active method of coaching his players (he enjoyed strapping on the skates to instruct his team). In Detroit he melded a group of young in-their-prime players with veteran superstars and took that group and mixed them with five international legends from Russia. His teams set records for most points and wins in a season, and his final team, the 2001-02 squad, featured nine future Hall of Famers and is considered one of the greatest teams in history. In all, Bowman won nine Stanley Cups, three with Detroit and his teams clinched two of them on the ice at The Joe.
8. Octopus on the ice
It’s the slimiest tradition in sports and it’s all Detroit. Eight tentacles equal the eight wins it used to take to win the Cup. Detroit (and The Joe) was the only place it made sense.
9. The crazy bounces off the boards
It was frustrating for visiting players. Sometimes it was frustrating to Red Wing players. But it always made things interesting. The quirky wooden boards at The Joe made the puck do bizarre things at times. One famous bounce sent the puck into the goal against the Sabres from 45 feet away.
10. The voice of Budd Lynch
The Joe was not a perfect building, in fact a lot of people felt it was less than desirable. Some even called the place “a dump.” It could be damp, cold, noisy, and in later years it often had a strange odor. It was quirky for sure. But public address announcer Budd Lynch gave it a fantastic soundtrack. He handled every game at The Joe from 1985 through the 2011-12 season.
11. After-game drinks at Cicarelli’s
Originally called “The Post,” this local bar near Joe Louis Arena is the best place to celebrate (or drink away) the results of the hockey game. It’s also a frequent hangout for players and coaches.
12. The repeat
It was with heavy hearts that the Wings raised the 1996-97 Stanley Cup Championship banner as the 1997-98 season started at The Joe. Vladimir Konstantinov and other members of the Red Wing family had suffered injuries in an automobile accident after their victory. Vlad would never play again. In tribute to him, the team wore “Believe” patches during the 1997-98 season. With Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, and captain Steve Yzerman leading the way, Detroit repeated as champions. It’s the last time an NHL team has won back-to-back titles.
13. The Perfect Human
Nicklas Lidstrom played his entire 20-year career for Detroit, his home games at The Joe. Widely regarded as the greatest defenseman in NHL history, the Swede won the James Norris Memorial Trophy a record seven times and won four Stanley Cup titles in the Motor City. After Yzerman’s retirement, Lidstrom succeeded #19 as team captain.
14. Mr. I on the ice with his team
Four times since 1997 the Red Wings made the city of Detroit proud by winning the Stanley Cup title. Four times they gave their passionate fans something to scream about. No fan was as proud as owner Mike Ilitch, who gave the franchise every advantage in their pursuit of greatness. Ilitch changed the way NHL owners spent money, as the Detroit pizza and entertainment magnate broke out his checkbook to lure the greatest players to Motown. He transformed Detroit into “Hockeytown,” the envy of every NHL city in the league. Three times, Mr. I was able to see his wings clinch the Cup at The Joe, and each time he made his way to the ice to celebrate.
15. Isiah’s scoring binge in the 1984 NBA Playoffs
The Detroit Pistons played only one game at The Joe, but it was unforgettable for the historic performances that took place by the two biggest stars on the court. Due to a scheduling conflict at the Silverdome, the Pistons played deciding Game Five of their playoff series against the Knicks at The Joe on April 27, 1984. With 94 seconds left in the game and the Pistons trailing by ten points, Isiah Thomas went to another place. A higher level. The Detroit guard scored 16 points in 1:34 and sent the game into overtime. The Pistons lost when New York guard Bernard King had the game of his life, responding to Isiah’s historic performance.
16. The puck-handling of Zäta
As the Wings prepare to leave The Joe, the last link to their great dynastic era is Henrik Zzetterberg, the 36-year old veteran forward who was the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2008. That was the last time the Wings hoisted The Cup. “Hank” will be a Hall of Famer someday on the strength of his dazzling puck-handling skills. He’s one of the best passers to ever wear the Detroit sweater.
17. The enforcers
Detroit is a working-class, blue-collar city. Fans respond to tough, hardnosed play. Nothing has exemplified that more than the play of Detroit enforcers like Darren McCarty, Joey Kocur, Reed Larson, Brendan Shanahan, and the ultimate tough guy, Bob Probert. In nine seasons with Detroit, Probert amassed more than 3,300 penalty minutes, the fifth-highest total in NHL history. He was big, fearless, and nearly undefeated with his fists.
18. The greatest team of all-time
The 2001-02 Red Wings were loaded. They had “The Captain,” Steve Yzerman, the game’s best defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom, the most feared goalie in the NHL in “The Dominator” Dominik Hasek, and several other future Hall of Famers. They were guided by the legend, Scorry Bowman, an eight-time Stanley Cup champion. This was the best team money could buy, and Mike Ilitch gladly wrote all the checks. The team was so deep they had former All-Stars fighting to get playing time. Two months into the season, the Wings were 22-3-1 and people were talking about them winning 70 games. They leveled off, but they won eight of nine games to dispatch the Canucks and Blues in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They met the Avalanche, the reigning champions, in the Western Conference Finals. Led by the play of goalie Patrick Roy, Colorado took a 3-2 series lead, winning three times in overtime. The Wings won a tense Game Six in Colorado to force a deciding Game Seven back in Detroit at The Joe. The outcome was never in doubt. The superior Wings scored on five of their first seven shots to take a 5-0 lead with nearly half of the first period still left to play. Roy was dazed, confused, and embarrassed. He was eventually pulled from the game, which Detroit won 7-0 to advance. Thirteen days later the Red Wings finished off the Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup. The greatest team ever (according to many) had led wire-to-wire and captured a third title for Bowman in Detroit. After the game, the Detroit coach announced his retirement.
19. The rafters
Yes, the team will bring the famed banners from The Joe to their new home at Little Caesar’s Arena. All of the red banners, the retired numbers, the Cup titles, the Conference titles, the playoff series appearances, they will all be back at the top of the new building. But it can’t seem as historic as it did at The Joe. It just can’t.