As the NHL season approaches, so does the final season for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. It has been the home of hockey in Detroit since 1979 and is one of the most fabled venues in all of sports. With the end rapidly approaching, we take a minute to review some of the best moments in the history of Joe Louis Arena.
Red Wings/ Avalanche Brawl (March 26, 1997)
Not only is this one of the greatest moments in the history of Joe Louis Arena, this may be my favorite moment in the history of the sport of hockey. Roger Pretzel has already given you his perspective on the affair. As an 11-year-old whipper snapper, I was just coming into my own as a sports fan in the Detroit area when this shit went down. But I remember watching it on tv in real time and falling in love with the Red Wings, the rivalry and the sport of hockey.
Hockey is one of the few sports where teams have a long memory and will retaliate for past offenses, even if it isn’t until next season. Baseball is probably the only other sport where this is an accepted (more or less) practice. That’s exactly what happened with this brawl. This ass kicking that the Avalanche received at the hands of the Red Wings was payback for Claude Lemieux’s dirty hit on Kris Draper in the ’96 playoffs. That hit ended Drapers season and he ended up needing reconstructive surgery.
When the two teams met at Joe Louis Arena the following season, it didn’t take long for things to get scrappy. A scuffle turned into complete and utter mayhem and Darren McCarty took the opportunity to pay back the debt owed to Claude Lemieux by beating the shit out of him. It was glorious. Another highlight was goalies Mike Vernon and Patrick Roy duking it out at center ice. This remains my favorite moment ever to occur at Joe Louis Arena.
See for yourself:
Red Wings end 42 year cup drought (June 7, 1997)
This was such a big deal when it happened. 42 years since Hockeytown had last seen the Stanley Cup, the Red Wings complete a 4-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers on their home ice. This is another moment that I vividly remember witnessing live on tv. It really makes me realize that 1997 was a great year to be a Red Wings fan.
The Red Wings won game 4 by a score of 2-1. Mike Vernon, who had been benched for the final 10 playoff games in the previous season, redeemed himself by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. He finished the playoffs with a 16-4 record and a .927 save percentage, and was integral in bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup back to Detroit.
Then it was party time. The arena immediately went ape shit when the clock expired, and so did the players. Joe Louis Arena was so electric that you could feel the joy pouring out of the television set. All around Southeast Michigan, the drinks were flowing and the people were celebrating. Of all the Red Wings and Pistons championships I have been alive to witness, I remember this one as having the most raucous celebration. LET’S GO RED WINGS!
Here is the best of the Red Wings 1997 Stanley Cup run:
Steve Austin and the zamboni (September 28, 1998)
This is another event that has been covered in some capacity here at ScoreBoredSports. But I was physically there for this one so I have to touch on it. And it remains one of the coolest moments in WWF (WWE) history. With the Detroit Red Wings in the middle of a dominating run, pro wrestling decided to come to town and found a way to incorporate some of Detroit’s hockey culture into the spectacle. Monday Night Raw was at the Joe and as usual there was no shortage of controversy and excitement.
In usual fashion during that era, Vince McMahon was being a total asshole. He screwed over Stone Cold Steve Austin by setting him up to get beat by the Undertaker and Kane and lose the belt. The only problem was that they both pinned Steve, so there was no clear cut winner. McMahon was having some stupid ceremony to present the belt to one of them. As usual, Steve Austin wasn’t having it. Punk ass McMahon surrounded himself with police in order to protect himself from Stone Cold’s white trash wrath, but Steve Austin had other ideas.
Stone Cold drove a zamboni up to the ring and proceeded to circumvent the police and security in order to open up a quick can of whoop ass all over McMahon. 12-year-old me was going absolutely nuts out there in the crowd. Steve Austin then got arrested and taken out of the arena, but the damage was done and the whole world knew that McMahon was bitch made.
I know it’s all staged but it was still pretty sweet. Check it out:
Gordie Howe’s last/Gretzky’s first All Star Game (February 5, 1980)
This one took place before my time but that doesn’t make me think that it’s any less fucking awesome. Two of the most legendary players in the history of the hockey sharing the ice for the 32nd NHL All Star Game. A 19-year-old phenom in the making, Wayne Gretzky, and a 51-year-old titan, Gordie Howe, playing in their first and last All Star games, respectively.
It was Howe’s 23rd appearance. Gretzky would go on to appear in every single All Star Game during his 20 year career, trailing only his childhood idol, Gordie Howe in total appearances. These two would combine for six decades as the face of the NHL and to see them both on the ice had to be very special for the sold out crowd in Joe Louis Arena.
This passing of the torch from Howe to Gretzky signified a changing of the guard in professional hockey. From toothless maniacs who didn’t even wear helmets to toothless maniacs who wore helmets. Gretzky was fast and flashy and incredibly talented, but he didn’t come up with any goals or assists that night in 1980. The old grizzled vet, Gordie wound up with 1 assist, however, and though I couldn’t find a video of the game, I did find one of that assist.
Way to go old man:
As the sun sets on Joe Louis Arena, we bid farewell to one of the most legendary venues in hockey. You can’t stop progress, and I suppose this moment was inevitable. A top notch team needs to have top notch facilities. When the crew moves up Woodward to their new home, Little Caesars Arena, near Ford Field and Comerica Park, they will take the banners down at the Joe and all that will remain is memories of the great times that came to pass on that hallowed ground. But until 2017, there is still one more season of hockey and some more memories to be made at the Joe.