DETROIT: Joe Louis Arena

31 Mar

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Today we are taking you on a tour of Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings. I guess I should start with the team itself. The Wings originated as the Victoria Cougars of the Old Western Hockey League, the roster was sold to Detroit in 1926 and became the Detroit Cougars. That first season home games were played in Windsor Ontario, they moved into the brand new Olympia Stadium for the 1927-28 season. The name was changed to the Detroit Falcons in 1931, in 1932 James Norris Sr purchased the team, changed the logo to the Winged Wheel we all know today and called the team the Red Wings.  One of the original 6 NHL teams, the Wings have won eleven Stanley Cups…eleven; the first came in the 1935/36 season, the most recent in the 2007/08 season. In December 1979 the Wings moved to their current home, Joe Louis Arena. The Norris family sold the franchise to current owners Mike and Marian Ilitch in 1982.  The team has made the playoffs in 28 of the last 30 seasons and has the longest current streak of post-season appearances in all of North American professional sports.

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We enter the arena at the West Press door, a crowd of people are gathered just inside. It feels as if we have entered a private world, a city operating independently inside the building. Out on the main concourse it becomes clearly evident this is much more than a building tour, it is walk through Red Wing history. Our guide Stanley (I’m not kidding, that’s his real name!) leads us to statuary hall, here 3 larger than life bronze statues capture the true spirit of Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay; our group takes turns posing for photos in front of the statues.  Vintage black and white photos have been blown up to banner size and hang from the ceiling throughout the concourse. The winged wheel logo is everywhere, old photographs connect the past to the present. Conversations within our group reveal the distances folks have traveled to be here; 4 women have driven 8 hours from Wisconsin, there’s a group of 3 from the Vancouver/Seattle area, a young couple has come all the way from Australia, Kris and I are the only locals.

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While making our way inside the arena itself, Stanley tells us about Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and Gordie Howe, the original ‘production line’, he explains the tradition of throwing the octopus onto the ice which began in 1952, he throws out names like Red Kelly, Steve Yzerman and Scotty Bowman. We get our first look inside, we have a complete view of the ice, 20,058 seats and the rafters……. Banners hang like clothes on a clothesline, really, really good clothes, one after another representing division championships, Stanley Cups and retired sweaters. American and Canadian flags dangle side by side; it’s quite a sight. We are at Suite level, there is little space between rows of seats, we shimmy along until we reach the Press Box, this too is a very narrow space, just enough room for a long counter and a row of red upholstered stools. Tags mounted to the counter identify who will be sitting where, Kris spots a funky old contraption that appears to control the scoreboard. Out of the press box we pause at the far end of the ice, smiles are plastered to the faces in our group, Stanley speaks with pride of the team and organization.

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There is much going on at the Joe today, the Wings are in the building for practice, a youth tournament is about to begin, there are meetings and groups throughout. We reach Super Suite D and all file in, pretty fancy! The suite is spacious and includes two rows of seating, high top tables, a TV and the best part, a private bathroom, no waiting in lines. We take the elevator down to ice level, doors are cracked open to huge rooms with giant machinery, furnaces, that kind of thing. The tour can be re-routed at any time depending on where the players are; we see the visitors locker room but the Wings locker room is in use. An old street sign for Olympia Stadium is mounted to a wall, sweet! We take a wide hall out to the ice passing the Zamboni garage along the way. We are ushered into the players box area taking seats on the bench as we watch the Zamboni refresh the ice. It’s pretty cool to be sitting here, cameras and smart phones are capturing the moment. The Humane Society is also here, various players are posing with dogs, there is a great deal of whispering and finger-pointing taking place, it’s an awesome feeling being here.

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When the ice is finished a group of uniformed boys take the ice, the tournament is about to begin; I wonder if they feel the significance of skating here or if that’s something that only sinks in later in life. Stanley has been most generous with his time and we have all enjoyed the opportunity to wander through this amazing building. For me, hearing the names of the old-timers takes me back to my childhood, my parents would speak of Gordie Howe as if he were a family friend, I think that might be a Detroit thing. Our sports heroes become household names, we address them casually, Stevie, McCarty, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, we feel we know them. The thing that surprised me most was the connection people from as far away as Australia have to this building and this team; seeing their excitement made our experience even more fun. The Red Wings move to their new arena for the 2017-18 season, so there’s still time to check out The Joe.

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Lunch is next on our agenda, 24 Grille is located on the ground floor of the Book Cadillac Hotel just a couple of blocks away. The restaurant is cozy and attractive, decorated with lots of wood and black accents. The lunch crowd has diminished, we have our choice of tables, Kris chooses a window-side table facing Washington Blvd. Our server is friendly and helpful. A quick scan of the menu and we place our order. Before we know it lunch arrives, the Wedge salad is nearly half a head of iceberg lettuce smothered in tasty blue cheese dressing sprinkled with crumbled bacon and chopped tomato. The veggie burger is huge! The house made patty is delicious, it sits on a brioche bun and is loaded with tasty toppings, served with a side of pasta salad it’s definitely big enough for two to share. 


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