Red Wings, franchise greats send off Joe Louis Arena in postgame ceremony

DETROIT - One by one, legends of history came onto the ice to say farewell to Joe Louis Arena.

The Detroit Red Wings celebrated in style Sunday, from sunny walks on red carpets to one last victory to a ceremony featuring such storied past members as Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scotty Bowman.

Fans stood and cheered as players past and present took their seats on a red carpet that spilled out “Joe” on the ice soon after the Wings finished their last game with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. One of the most emotional moments came when Doug Brown wheeled out Vladimir Konstantinov, whose career ended after a limousine accident in June 1997, a week after the Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

After 38 years at the Joe, the Wings will move into Little Caesars Arena next season.

Yzerman spoke first at the postgame ceremony. He called the Joe “beautiful in its simplicity. It has its own charm and character,” as he bid farewell to a building where the Wings celebrated Stanley Cups in 1997 and 2002.

Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, said, “I have to congratulate the Detroit Red Wings for an incredible streak of 25 years of making the playoffs. I can attest it is hard to make the playoffs.”

Yzerman spoke of being able to look to his right when he sat on the Wings bench during home games and seeing Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch in their suite “at virtually every single hockey game.”

Mike Ilitch passed away in February.

Yzerman also spoke of ending the 42-year Stanley Cup drought and winning it in 1997.

“I have no doubt this organization will once again will raise a Stanley Cup,” he said.

Yzerman ranks second in games played at the Joe with 763, trailing only Nicklas Lidstrom’s 789. Yzerman has the most goals (330), assists (567) and points (897) at the Joe.

Dozens of alumni were on hand. For many, the event began early in the afternoon as they walked a red carpet into the Joe. Fans were crammed behind ropes, seemingly thousands vying for a glimpse and an autograph. Most players stopped to sign and take pictures, including Chris Chelios, Chris Osgood, Riley Sheahan and Frans Nielsen.

Trying to put it all in perspective was one of the most gregarious players to ever wear the winged wheel.

“At some point you will get choked up,” Darren McCarty said. “How can you not? It’s like you are putting down your 15-year-old golden retriever. You don’t want to see it suffer.”

The Joe hosted its first event Dec. 12, 1979 with a basketball game between the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit, and its first NHL game 15 days later, Dec. 27, when the Wings played the St. Louis Blues.

Former goaltender Mike Vernon was among those who said the crowd lining the red carpet on a gorgeously sunny afternoon reminded him of the June day in 1997 when Hockeytown became hooky-town as fans jammed Woodward to celebrated the Wings’ first Stanley Cup championship in 42 years.

“The three years I was here, we went to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, so that was nice,” Vernon said. “And winning it here in Detroit, too, that was quite special, in front of our own fans.

“You see outside today, the support this team gets from fans. It is amazing. This place, it packs in about 20,000 and they are screaming loud fans. They are very vocal. It was fun playing here. Got your blood going every time.”

Playing at the Joe was special because the lack of midlevel suites created a sea of fans.

“I played against the Red Wings for four or five years before I joined the team,” former forward Mikael Samuelson said. “It was a hard building to play in because of the fans.”

Scotty Bowman said that, “anytime a rink is a little bit different than the others, it seems to be an edge. Used to be smaller buildings. The way the fans feel, they make the visiting team feel crammed in.

“The fans are still great fans. I think they are going to still be supportive. They are great fans.”

Scotty Bowman said that, “anytime a rink is a little bit different than the others, it seems to be an edge. Used to be smaller buildings. The way the fans feel, they make the visiting team feel crammed in.

“The fans are still great fans. I think they are going to still be supportive. They are great fans.”

Bowman brought forth laughter as the last speaker at the ceremony, recalling how he gave Holmstrom the No. 96 because “that is when you will be going home.” In fact, Holmstrom logged more than 1,000 games in a Wings uniform, the last player to do so before Henrik Zetterberg joined the club Sunday.

Bowman also cast a positive outlook on the future, urging fans to enjoy the new arena and the Wings to get to work on another playoff streak. This spring marks the first time in 26 seasons they have not advanced to the playoffs.

During a question-and-answer session midway through the ceremony, Vernon reminisced about the March 26, 1997 game when he fought Patrick Roy, calling it “the most exhausting thing I ever did.”

Tomas Holmstrom laughed as he recalled how Scotty Bowman “benched me one game. I had one shift. He wanted me to get faster.”

Alumni milled about in the bowels of the arena before the game, prepping for an evening culminating with the farewell ceremony.

“Guys are glad to get together and tell stories and rip each other a bit and have fun,” Vernon said. “It is fun to get together at an event like this and get the laughter going again.”

Yzerman, who captained the Wings to three Stanley Cups before retiring in 2006, as usual found the perfect way to wrap up a special night at the Joe.

“To all of you that showed up and showed your love for the of the game,” he said, “you are as important to his organization as these players.”

The night ended with Journey’s “Don’t stop believin’” blasting as fans sang along, the legends on the ice sharing laughter, and memories.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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