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Photo Credit: @DetroitRedWings

A Little History Can Go A Long Way

Last week, the letters from the old Detroit Olympia were installed inside the new Little Caesars Arena. The letters, which light up at night, are the original letters that dressed the outside of the old red barn. What’s more, they were placed beside a mural of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.

These two installations came on the heels of the team moving statues of Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio into the concourse of the new arena. If you’ve been following the team’s offseason Twitter musings, you’ll have noticed that odes to old teams and players are scattered all around the interior and exterior of the new arena.

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This team is lucky that it even has a history to put on display. A team like the Florida Panthers, for example, has only been in the league for twenty-four years and has one Stanley Cup Final appearance to show for it. But the Red Wings organization has always done a particularly good job of honouring its past. We saw this in abundance last season as the team said goodbye to Joe Louis Arena with a series of ceremonies throughout the season, like the 20 year anniversary of the 1997 Stanley Cup victory.

And that’s only recent history. 

Pictures and statues from teams as far back as the 1920s hang from the walls in tunnels, locker rooms, and concourses. The numbers of players from Detroit’s dynasty in the fifties hang proudly from the rafters. The fact that current players can’t wear those numbers serves as a constant reminder of the success that came before them and the success that’s expected of them in the future.

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This team places a heavy emphasis on its culture. It asks players to buy into the Red Wings Way, requiring a strong work ethic, a winning attitude, and a promise to always put the team first. These are qualities that Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe displayed and they were adopted by Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom. These players built a reputation for the Red Wings. The team has always been referred to as classy, respectful, and strong.

Keeping their history so close can leave an impact on the current players, especially the young ones. The Red Wings have always had stalls for these legends in the dressing room and hosted visits from them, a practice that Mike Babcock brought with him to Toronto. “When you get to hang around Gordie Howe, Mr. Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio for 10 years like I did, Mr. Lindsay especially, and see the kind of role model and man he is, the tattoo he has on him, he makes the people around him better,” Babcock told the Toronto Sun in a 2015 interview. He went on to explain that the integrity of those men was much bigger than their ability to play and they made everyone around them better.

Meeting these men and hearing about their experiences can be humbling and that’s why the Red Wings organization keeps its history so close and on constant display. Not only can they be an inspiration to current players, but they can help shape and mold them into the kind of people the Wings need their players to be.

The history isn’t only important for the players on the ice, though. It’s just as important for the team to remind their fan base how much history there is to be proud of, especially in dire times such as these. Indulge me in the following hypothetical.

Imagine being at LCA and watching the Wings lose a real doozie to the Lightning. They were up 3-1 going into the third period, but Danny DeKeyser took a terrible slashing penalty with eight minutes left and Nikita Kucherov converted on the powerplay. The Lightning built on that momentum to score two more in the final five minutes of the game. You leave your seat, hands buried in your pockets and head hanging, but as you walk through the concourse you see the picture of Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, and Slava Fetisov pushing Vladimir Konstantinov around the ice holding the Stanley Cup. You know the one I’m talking about. Then, as you make your way to the exit, you see the statue of Gordie and, painted on a wall behind him, the years of all the Stanley Cup victories. The edges of your mouth curl upwards into a smile as you walk through the doors and into the night.

Vladimir Konstantinov
16 Jun 1998: Former member of the Detroit Red Wing Vladimir Konstantinov poses with the Stanley cup and former teammates during the Stanley Cup Finals game against the Washington Capitals at the MCI Center in Washington, D. C.. The Red Wings defeated the Capitals 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge /Allsport

For fans, this display of history is especially important. We win with our teams, we bleed with our teams, and we lose with our teams. In a way, that makes the team’s history a part of our own. We wear past Stanley Cups with a badge of honour and we call back to all of those Conference and Division championship banners as if we had anything to do with them.

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So yes, a little history can go a long way for this team. It can certainly help inspire and engage a new crop of players by passing on the winning culture of legends and champions from another time. But more than that, it reminds the fan base of everything they’ve stood witness to and it keeps them engaged and impassioned through what’s bound to be a rough transition period.

So when those Olympia letters light up inside LCA next season, it will be a strong reminder of what this team did once upon a time. It will be a reminder of where we’ve been and where we can go. It’s hope and, at this point, hope is all we have for this team.