It’s that time of year where everybody puts on their rose-colored glasses and looks back fondly at the last twelve months. For the Red Wings, it certainly wasn’t an uplifting year, but it was a historical year for the team and the league. They played in the first game of the NHL’s centennial season. They got to say goodbye to their treasured arena and open the doors to the next era. On the whole, it was a disappointing year, but there were still some great moments that flirted with my emotions and got my adrenaline rushing. Here are my five best Red Wings moments from 2017.
5. The Centennial Classic
It was a beautiful New Year’s Day in Toronto as thousands of fans flocked to BMO Stadium for the opening game of the NHL’s Centennial Year. The Detroit Red Wings vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs – an original six match-up and a rematch of the outdoor game at the Big House in Michigan only three years prior.
The game was full of history and celebration as the league introduced part of their list for the top-100 players of all time. Though the game itself didn’t end well for the Red Wings, they sure made it exciting, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the dying minutes of the third period. Anthony Mantha scored twice and Dylan Larkin scored once in a game that was ended in extra time by none other than Auston Matthews.
It was an exciting day as the league celebrated its history, but also showcased the next generation on a huge outdoor stage. The game may not have gone the Red Wings’ way, but it was still a stand-out moment of 2017.
4. Bench Brawl Against Calgary
It’s been a long-time since the Red Wings were known as fighters, but you’d never have guessed it on November 15th when the Calgary Flames were in town. There’s no doubt that Luke Witkowski’s role on the ice is enforcement and, yeah, he drops the gloves occasionally when his team needs him to. But rarely does anything escalate to the point that it did against the Flames.
Witkowski was being shown to the locker room after a fight and misconduct penalty against Brett Kulak when Matthew Tkachuk gave him a little tap on the butt on his way out. Witkowski took serious exception to this and came back out onto the ice to face Tkachuk. Well that sparked a fire that saw Anthony Mantha line up with Travis Hamonic and even Jimmy Howard getting involved with Brett Gillies and throwing a couple punches. When all of the dust had settled, Witkowski and Tkachuk were both given game misconducts (and later suspended by the league), Hamonic and Mantha were given game misconducts, and Howard was handed an unsportsmanlike conduct minor, among many other penalties.
It was icing on the cake of the 8-2 victory where Larkin, Athanasiou, and Mantha scored 5 of the Wings 8 goals.
3. Inaugural Game At LCA
Anticipation built over the course of the Summer as the final touches were made on the Red Wings new home – Little Caesars Arena. It was tough to say goodbye to the Joe (more on that later), but when the doors opened for the season opener on October 5th, fans were entranced with the new building.
It’s large concourses are home to relics of seasons past (including statues from the Joe and the original Olympia letters that donned the side of the Wings’ first home) and more food and drink options than one knows what to do with. The concourses continue to be such an attraction that the team is having trouble drawing fans to their seats.
Current and past players walked a red carpet as they arrived at the arena, signing autographs for fans and shaking hands on their way in. Team owner Chris Illitch dropped the inaugural first puck at center ice. Then, the Red Wings proceeded to defeat the visiting Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-2. Anthony Mantha scored the first ever goal at LCA, which was fitting considering he’s part of the new wave of Red Wings who will carry this team going forward.
2. Riley Sheahan’s 2 Goal Game
Riley Sheahan had a rough time last season. Despite playing an average of 13:58 per game, Sheahan went 81 games without scoring a single goal. He took a total of 106 shots, 9th most on the team, to set a league record for most amount of shots without a goal.
Just as it was looking like Riley would go an entire season without a goal, he scored two in the final game of the season. Maybe it was the ghosts of Red Wings past creating one last bit of magic in the final game that would ever be played at Joe Louis Arena, but Sheahan had a nose for the net as he sniped one past Corey Schneider in the first period. Then, on a powerplay in the third, Frans Nielsen made a beautiful pass through the slot and all Sheahan had to do was tap it into the empty net.
He was the last player to ever score a goal at Joe Louis Arena.
1. Saying Goodbye To The Joe
Joe Louis Arena was home to the Detroit Red Wings from for 38 years. It was home to four Stanley Cups and countless on-ice memories, such as Fight Night at the Joe and Sergei Fedorov’s five goal game. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and in 2017 we had to say goodbye to The Joe.
The last game was on April 9th and the Wings hosted the New Jersey Devils. Having already fallen out of playoff contention, there was no pressure to win or lose this game and we could all just enjoy the Joe one last time together, completely stress-free.
Like the first game at LCA, both current and former players arrived on a red carpet, signing autographs and shaking hands on their way in. The night was full of surprises, such as Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman coming home one more time for the ceremonial puck drop. Throughout the game, which wasn’t very exciting, our Fox Sports Detroit hosts conducted interviews and told stories of all the good times that took place in the historic arena.
The Wings did win the game by a score of 4-1. When the hockey was concluded, there was a celebration on the ice hosted by Ken Daniels. Current and former players gave speeches and answered questions. Bob Probert’s widow left some of his ashes in the penalty box. To cap it off, there was a beautiful moment where all the guests on the ice and in the stands were given red hockey sticks and together hoisted them towards the rafters. This was the final goodbye.
The Joe will always hold a special place in the heart of the Red Wings organization. It was old, but it had character. The team did a wonderful job saying goodbye to it. It was my favourite moment of 2017. What were some of yours?