Joe Louis Arena in Detroit was one of fabled arenas in hockey when I was a kid. So many great Red Wings players played here and, painfully for Flyers fans, multiple Stanley Cup wins. With The Joe shutting down at the end of the 2016-17 season, it was a priority for us to get there.
We left a couple days after Christmas for Detroit and landed in the morning. It was pretty cold but not bad enough where we couldn’t walk around. We grabbed lunch at Hockeytown Cafe which was a neat restaurant filled with Red Wings memorabilia. It’s also just across from where the Red Wings new home, Little Caesar’s Arena, is located. It’s neat area that is developing in Detroit – they have Ford Field (Lions), Comerica Park (Tigers) and now Little Caesar’s Arena for the Wings. Additionally, it was great to see Detroit rebounding with new restaurants and businesses opening up after years of struggle.
Our hotel was at Renaissance Plaza, the General Motors headquarters. From the back of the hotel, which is right on Lake St Claire, you can see Ontario across the water which was a pretty cool site. Thanks to all of our Marriott Rewards (earned through too much business travel), we got a room on the 63rd floor which had absolutely spectacular views of Detroit.
Like we’ve done on most of our trips, we found an outdoor rink and skated for a while, took some pictures and got ready for the game. Detroit has a elevated rail/tram that does a loop around the city but only in one direction. With it stopping at our hotel, we took this to The Joe and waited outside on an incredibly cold night. The excitement to get inside was real though, The Joe reminded me so much of the Spectrum where I saw a number of Flyers games as a kid.
Inside, we did our usual – puck and t-shirt, then went to our seats. I honestly had no idea what was happening that night though. We walked around and took pictures with the Gordie Howe statue and then took our seats. The arena just had a great, old hockey feel to it. That’s a feeling that’s missing from so many of the new, modern arenas. It’s a feeling I’ve only gotten in places like the Spectrum, in Gatineau and at Madison Square Garden.
We had a “When in Rome” moment and had to get Little Caesar’s pizza at the recommendation of some of the fans we chatted with while waiting to get in. After we ate, we were walking around and I almost fell over – I was standing next to Phil Pritchard, the Keeper of the Cup. You’ll likely recognize Phil, even as a causal fan. He works for the Hockey Hall of Fame and gets to travel most of the year with the Stanley Cup. We shook hands and he took a picture with Colin. The best part was that he had the Clarence Campbell trophy (Western Conference Championship) and the Conn Smythe trophy (NHL Playoff MVP). As a lifelong fan, it was remarkable to see them in person.
We had great seats for the game and enjoyed conversations with the people around us. In between the first and second periods, there was apparently a special event that we weren’t aware of – an anniversary celebration for the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup Championship over the Flyers. It’s one of my more painful Flyers memories and I had to watch a video highlight of their run and Joey Kocur’s Game 1 goal but it was an awesome event to see. The best part was them rolling out the red carpet and having the 97 team team in their sweaters walk on to the ice, with the Stanley Cup! Most of the team was their, Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios, Niklas Lidstrom, Sergey Federov, etc. The most touching moment was Vladimir Konstantinov was wheeled onto the ice by Darren McCarty. After the speech, they put the Cup on Konstantinov and wheeled him out. It was an incredibly emotional moment.
This trip was so much more than I expected and the history of it all really hit me once we were back at the hotel. I’m not sure Colin fully appreciates what he saw that night but to see all of the NHL hardware, all of those Hall of Famers and to be at The Joe in it’s final season was something we couldn’t have hoped for.
Our next trip was to Detroit. We flew in on Tuesday and took an Uber to our hotel and got checked in. We walked around the city and went to a really cool restaurant, Hockeytown Cafe. The whole restaurant was full of Red Wings After we ate we walked around the city for a little and stopped to go ice skating which was a lot of fun but once we noticed there was only a little time before the game we went to Joe Louis Arena but we had to wait a little extra time and we also had to wait outside for 30 minutes in below freezing weather.
Once we were in we got our puck and Red Wings shirts and had one of the coolest experiences ever. I got to meet the keeper of the Stanley Cup, Phil Pritchard and held the Clarence Campbell Trophy (Western Conference champion trophy).
After we took our picture at center ice we went to our seats and the surprises continued. We got to witness a game in the final year at The Joe but we also got to see the 20 year anniversary of the Detroit Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup against the Flyers. We got to see the whole team out on the ice and they brought out the Cup which was really cool. Afterward we watched a really good game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Buffalo Sabres. It was a well fought but sadly the Red Wings lost 4-3.
After that we were tired and went back to our room for some sleep because the next day we would have to leave to fly to Washington to see the Capitals play. I had a great experience in Detroit and got to witness a great game in one of the best arenas ever.