Joe Louis Arena.
Just the name brings all kinds of memories flooding back. It’s the kind of place that has just been in the background my whole life. Steady, consistent, occasionally taking centre stage… always there. It’s the kind of place that can fade into the background until you notice that it’s gone. Until you stop and think about the hole it’s left in the landscape.
For me that landscape is literal, as well as figurative. Growing up in downtown Windsor, the Joe has always just been there. As a kid playing in the parks down by the river. As a teenager taking prom pictures. In university, looming on the horizon as I parked to write exams, or hand in papers. As an adult, attending weddings in buildings on the waterfront; walking out of work when I was at the new water park/natatorium.
Even now, living in Toronto and having not been to a game in over a year, watching the final game took me back in time. I remember when I first stepped through those big red curtains and saw the ice. I was with my dad. He brought me for my birthday. It remains the most excited I’ve ever been for a hockey game. I had been dying to go to a game for years, and here it finally was. As Justin Abdelkader mentioned in his article, it was my first time seeing the rink in full colour. It was bright and dark at the same time. Everything was more red than I’d imagined. It had the feel of a classic barn. The steep steps, the sticky floors, the crowds jostling around in the surprisingly small concourse. It was everything I’d imagined.
Over the years I’ve been to see games countless times. I spent many more birthdays sitting in those seats with my dad. I remember the crowd chanting “turtle” at Claude Lemieux in the years following the Brawl. My brother and I would go see the Penguins when they came into town as often as we could. I would tunnel bus over there with friends as a teenager and young adult and was somehow always surprised at how potent those red tubes of jungle juice were. I went with my Spartan fan girlfriend to cheer on the Wolverines. I was at game 7 against Anaheim in the second round of 2009 wondering how on earth I was going to survive a game 7 overtime until Dan Cleary scored from his ass with minutes left, and I could breathe again… until Journey came on. I found the craft beer kiosk, and spent exorbitant amounts of money there. Beer seemed expensive at the time, until I moved to Toronto.
A number of years back I lined up outside the Joe early in the (freezing cold) morning before the season began to buy as many $9 tickets as they would allow. I went so often that year I think the customs agents at the border knew me by name. That wait for tickets was amazing. Hundreds of people lined up in Wings gear in downtown Detroit on a dreary September morning, waiting for the doors to open. When we finally got in they let us sit for the rest of the wait in the Olympia Club. I would have stood in line just for the chance to explore.
The history of the place was palpable. The walls were literally lined with the images hockey greats from the past. These were the same hallways that my heroes walked. Everywhere you looked there was memorabilia of times gone by. It’s no wonder everyone who plays in that building speaks of the greatness that is expected of them.
I am excited for Little Caesars Arena. My brother and I took a road trip to Pittsburgh back when the Wings opened the Consol Energy Centre in the preseason. A new rink is truly an amazing place. The seats are comfortable, there is more than enough room for everyone, there are actual urinals… but I missed the comfortable confines of the Joe. I’m sure that will be the case with LCA as well. For as old and annoying as the Joe can be, it’s what we grew up with.
Watching the ceremony the other night, I was choking back tears. It was powerful in the same way you get choked up when you move out for the first time. You know what’s coming is new, and exciting, and probably beyond due… but damn you’re going to miss home.
All you can do is look forward to the future… and maybe write a sappy article about the old barn where you grew up.