Over the past 30 years or so, our family has spent many memorable hours watching the Red Wings play at the Joe Louis Arena. So it was with much emotion that they said farewell to the Joe on Sunday, April 9, along with 20,000 of the world’s greatest fans. The Joe Louis Arena, which was built in 1979, is of course named after Detroit’s own heavyweight boxing champ, Joe Louis. It has served as the home ice for the Detroit Red Wings since its opening. We’re not really going to miss the actual facility–it had its faults to be sure. Steep stairways, poor access, and certainly, not enough bathrooms. And did I mention the traffic? Some people lovingly referred to it as “the dump.” But despite all the inconveniences inherent to the building, the “Farewell to the Joe” experience was something my family members didn’t want to miss, with many traveling from far away in order to be a part of this “last time” experience. Here is what my wife Mary and a few of the kids had to say about how much the Joe meant to them. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
MARY STAHL: No question, the most memorable moments at Joe Louis Arena—besides watching the Red Wings—were when our kids had the opportunity to get on the ice. Whether it was before a Wings game or during intermission, our kids had many opportunities, thanks to their youth hockey teams, to skate on the ice at the Joe. To see the gleam in their eyes was more than rewarding. It’s every young hockey player’s dream to skate with the pros, meet players and go on locker room tours. The Joe gave our family another reason to get together and make memories while watching a sport we all understand and love! Hockey is a sport that even keeps the attention of the youngest fan. Dressing up in full Red Wing gear and painting the family van was another memory. Our daughters Krystin and Kaitlyn always looked forward to the playoffs, so they could really get decked out and they were almost always featured on the Jumbotron, dancing and having a blast. They got pretty outrageous, with face painting, beards and of course personalized player jerseys. Krystin also made it a ritual to dance with Mo Cheese, the Wings mascot, every game. She and a friend were even known as the “Cheesettes.” Another funny memory is from the time where they handed out mustaches during a playoff series, so that women could get in the shorter lines for the men’s bathrooms! One of the biggest design flaws in the Joe is that there were very few bathrooms. All in all, the best memory of the Joe—next to the 1997 Stanley Cup winning game—would have to be the last game at the Joe. Nowhere else in the world of hockey could anyone witness the class act the Joe put on to close out the arena. Our family went down at 1:30 for a 5:00 game but the festivities started at 2:00 pm. It all started with a red carpet show along the riverside of Detroit, with a beautiful view of Canada. The red carpet included over 50 Red Wing alums, along with the current players. And even though those current players “had to get ready for a game” they signed every autograph put in front of them. The day was beautiful! Once inside the Joe, the Jumbotron showed highlights of the past. Fans bought up every last piece of “Farewell to the Joe” merchandise that was for sale. You could purchase hats and t-shirts of course, but also pucks used in warm ups and framed glass panels from the stadium. Plus, on each seat there was a certificate stating that you had been in the Joe Louis Arena on the last day. Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman dropped the puck for the face off. The Red Wings 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils was played to deafening response from the fans singing, shouting and celebrating. At the final buzzer, which was counted down at the top of our lungs, the Red Wings formed a circle, raised their sticks for the last time and clapped to thank the fans. How classy. After the game a stage and chairs were set up. No one left the arena. The alumni and current Red Wings were announced back onto the ice. Ken Daniels the announcer paid tribute to the late Mike Illitch and his family (Red Wings owners), talked about the Joe, the players, the fans. Former Red Wings Steve Yzerman and Scotty Bowman gave very touching speeches. Al Sobotka, head ice manager for more than 30 years, had the honor of twirling his last octopus on the ice. It all ended with fireworks and lasted until 10:00 pm. You could say they went out with a bang! Another class act was when Red Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg’s wife Emma, who sits near us, gave the four ushers in our section an autographed jersey signed by #40. A good time and lots of memories by all. On to the next chapter, Little Ceasars Arena, where we are sure we will make many new memories.
KARI SCHIVES: At The Joe, I was able to witness some of the best games in Red Wing history. The Detroit-Colorado brawl and the 1997 and 2002 Stanley Cup wins are at the forefront of my mind. Being able to watch some of the greatest players ever- Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Zetterberg, although “The Grind Line” was my personal favorite. I’ll never forget riding the People Mover to attend games with my parents and brothers, playing games with my youth teams and taking part in the intermission shootouts. Plus we got to know some of the Joe Louis employees, along with the legendary Mo Cheese and Orange Hat Guy. It was also so special being able to take my own kids to their first Wings games. But above all, I’ll cherish the countless memories I made with my family and best friends while attending the games. The final game was a wonderful tribute to an arena I grew up in. I am so thankful that I could take part in it. Thank you Joe Louis Arena.
TREVOR STAHL: I think my best memories of the Joe are from youth hockey when I played between periods in front of 18,000 people. Other great memories were having the opportunity to watch the 2001-2002 Stanley Cup team with Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Nick Lidstrom, Luc Robitaille, Stevie Y, Igor Larionov, Chris Chelios, Pavel Datsyuk and Dominik Hasek. All current or future hall of famers were on that one team.You will never get to see that ever again in the NHL.