On May 16, 1996, Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman skated into the offensive zone and let loose a slapper from the blue line that blew past St. Louis Blues goaltender Jon Casey to win Game 7 in double overtime.
I watched from my house in Milford, CT. It was the moment that I knew the Detroit Red Wings were a special hockey team.
On January 14th, 2017, my wife and I watched Andreas Athanasiou pick up the puck behind his own net, skate through the entire Pittsburgh team, blow past our seats in the lower bowl, and roof the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury.
It was my first time being at the arena the hockey world has christened “The Joe.”
I watched the Red Wings defeat the Canadiens two days later from the top row. This was a familiar view for me, as I often traveled to the Nassau Coliseum to sit in the top row, center-ice to root on my New York Islanders.
I’ve written on here a few times about how I grew up an Islanders fan, with the Red Wings as my “playoff team,” so many of you reading it will have more in-person memories of Joe Louis Arena than I do.
After finally traveling to Detroit and “The Joe,” I saw some connections between the arena I grew up attending and the home of the Red Wings.
Both arenas are products of a bygone era: A time before wide concourses, enough bathrooms, and all the amenities of modern arenas.
Even with these drawbacks, both possessed something that other arenas cannot hope to: history.
I grew up under banners commemorating the Islander dynasty Stanley Cup victories and the legendary players: Potvin, Gillies, Trottier, Bossy, Nystrom, and Smith, hanging alongside a banner recognizing Al Arbour, one of the greatest coaches of all time.
Being an Original 6 team, the Red Wings have much more history to draw on, so they have many more banners.
Lidstrom. Yzerman. Abel. Sawchuk. Delvecchio. Lindsay. Howe. The seemingly endless rows of Stanley Cup championship banners, division titles, conference titles.
There’s also that part where they didn’t suck for, like, twenty of my formative years.
Although any television broadcast of a Detroit home game shows the banners, there’s nothing like being there and seeing them for yourself. It’s the difference between seeing the Sistine Chapel in pictures and learning what it smells like in person. Or so I’ve been told by Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting.
I’ve learned a similar lesson about a New York subway station, although I’m sure the church example is much more pleasant.
I was recently given an advanced copy of a new book to review called “The Joe: Memories from the Heart of Hockeytown.” It contains the work of the writers from the Detroit Free Press and is published by Triumph Books.
The book is 128 pages of trips down memory lane for fans of the Red Wings. With the large 8.5 x 11” page size, it’s hard to decide which is better: the pictures or the writing.
Some of the sections contain Detroit Free Press articles from the date major events occurred, while others are tributes to the arena that the Wings called home since I have been alive.
My goal is to help you decide if this book is for you without giving too much away.
The book features sections featuring the tenure of owner Mike Ilitch, who passed away recently, as well as an opening section that documents the creation of the arena as well as its most memorable quirks.
Of course Gordie Howe, who passed away prior to this season, is prominently featured.
There’s also a great picture of fans on the arena stairs. Not this one, although this one is pretty great too:
For me, the best section was the middle one: “The Best of the Best.” I won’t spoil anything by discussing too many of the moments covered, but you can bet your favorite memory will be here. As well as your second favorite, and so on. This section covers the 35 most memorable Red Wing moments at “The Joe.”
I greatly enjoyed the writing, which is at least a step up from your standard hockey writing, in some cases many steps. While some writers are better than others, many of the sections featured beautiful, evocative prose.
Other sections include recollections of the arena from a wide variety of people as well as memories of non-hockey events that occurred there.
Since they are worth 1000 words, the pictures are the real standout of the book. I’ve seen many of these moments before, but I hadn’t seen some of the specific pictures.
Like I said earlier, I don’t want to give too much away, but the most powerful photo for me was one of the worst events featured: the Jiri Fischer cardiac scare.
In the foreground, Mike Babcock’s face registers the shock felt by everyone watching in person and on television. In the background, Fischer’s skates are sticking out under the team doctor desperately trying to save the player’s life.
While this image evokes memories of an awful night seared in many fans’ memories, others portray iconic positive moments: memories of legends, perfect humans, and five Russians. Of turtle-hunting, banner raising, and a Mule.
Ultimately, this book is a must-buy for anyone looking to have a lasting memento of a storied arena.
While the team will continue to create lasting memories for fans in its new arena, Detroit, and the rest of the hockey world will never forget “The Joe” and its place in hockey history in the Pantheon of classic arenas.
“The Joe: Memories from the Heart of Hockeytown,” can be purchased through Triumph Books. It is also available on Amazon here. It will be available April 18, 2017, but is available for pre-order.