Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hockey Night in Hockeytown
A cup from the Joe



All the way to Michigan and back in less than 24 hours, and all I've got to show for it is a Hockeytown mug.

Last night's Red Wings-Coyotes game was actually my first trip to Joe Louis Arena, which has become a mecca for any hockey fan. Me and a pal picked up two $40 tickets at the box office right around puck drop, and sat up in row 20 of the upper bowl, not all that far from the Norris Division banners.

In years past, hopping in the car and heading to a game in Detroit without tickets in hand wasn't possible. This season, the team's ducat-selling woes have been well-publicized, however, and despite the fact a near-sellout was announced, we were accompanied by several thousand empty red seats.

Even so, the atmosphere was terrific, as I haven't seen a game in an old barn like the Joe since the days of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. Unlike the cookie cutter rinks we've seen built in the past 10 or 15 years, Joe Louis certainly has character, including an old organ belting out classic tunes and legendary public address announcer Budd Lynch kept fans abreast of the action.

The trough urinals in the men's room are a nice touch, too.

The building's concourse is an old-school setup, running along underneath the seats, and there's a distinct octopus funk throughout. I was priced out of getting a Zetterberg jersey, instead settling for the $12 mug as a memento.

The game itself was interesting more for the opposition than the Red Wings; Phoenix hustled all game long and held a distinct advantage in shots on goal by the halfway point. A brutal giveaway by Niklas Kronwall midway through the first resulted in a nice goal by big rookie Martin Hanzal and a 1-1 tie, and Ed Jovanovski scored from the point for the second period's only goal to put the Coyotes in the lead.

The Desert Dogs' young lineup even had the Red Wings on the ropes a bit in the third period, hemming Chris Chelios and partner Derek Meech (a really terrific skater) in the Detroit zone for quite a while in the third.

Ultimately, experience won out, and it was Nicklas Lidstrom leading the charge down the ice as the Red Wings potted two quick goals midway through the third period to win the game. Phoenix certainly deserved at least a point but, then again, Ilya Bryzgalov faced 39 shots and was outplayed by Chris Osgood at the other end.

Kronwall, meanwhile, is going to be out about 10 days after a shoulder injury suffered on a hit by Daniel Winnick, who had a great game for Phoenix.

It was nice to see the Coyotes up close. Phoenix's work ethic really is second to none, and Tuesday was essentially a test of youthful exuberance against veteran savvy. With Kyle Turris and a few other youngsters on the way in, and 19-year-old Peter Mueller well on his way to becoming a big-bodied 35-goal man, this should be a team on the rise the next few years.

Heck, as it stands now, they're right in the thick of the playoff hunt — and didn't have any problem skating with the best team in the league.

On the whole, a great experience — although I can certainly understand why fans in Motown might want a new downtown rink in the near future.

Forty-one games of octopus funk might be a bit much.

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11 Comments:

At 1:00 AM, February 01, 2008, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Last night's Red Wings-Coyotes game was actually my first trip to Joe Louis Arena, which has become a mecca for any hockey fan.

It's a sad state of affairs when a rink not even 30 years old is considered a mecca.

 
At 1:34 AM, February 01, 2008, Blogger Nick said...

We displaced Detroiters are jealous - that was a good game. The highlight was Chris Osgood stopping Doan in those last few minutes. I hope some of the people bashing him in your all star thread were watching... but I digress. Glad you had a good time, James.

 
At 2:47 AM, February 01, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

One of the little touches of character of the Joe is that the zamboni doors at the end of the rink don't *quite* close flush. Every once in a while, a puck takes a crazy bounce off the back boards. The University of Minnesota lost the 1987 NCAA semi-final when Corey Millen shot puck around the boards, and it skipped right out in front to a Spartan. John Blue never had a chance to react. I've kept my eye open for it ever since, and see it happen about once a season.

 
At 9:02 AM, February 01, 2008, Blogger Baroque said...

Glad you enjoyed yourself.

Phoenix is a solid looking team. I wonder if their home fans have noticed yet? They certainly should start paying attention to them.

One of the little touches of character of the Joe is that the zamboni doors at the end of the rink don't *quite* close flush.

You can tell the goaltenders who are used to it, because they will stay in the net when the puck is shot toward that area, lest they leave the net vacant as the puck flies out in front.

 
At 10:25 AM, February 01, 2008, Anonymous Paul said...

Joe Louis certainly has character, including an old organ belting out classic tunes...

All courtesy of a DJ spinning his CD's...

 
At 12:24 PM, February 01, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

It's a sad state of affairs when a rink not even 30 years old is considered a mecca.

There really aren't a lot of rinks from the 1960s and earlier that would even be suitable to still be in use.

Besides, the team and city are what make Joe Louis a destination point, not necessarily the smelly barn.

 
At 12:58 PM, February 01, 2008, Anonymous Sofie said...

My family visited my uncle in Phoenix over New Years, and I insisted we go to a Coyotes game (they were playing the Avs).

Being used to games in Philly, mostly empty arenas are always weird to me. Especially with a team like Phoenix, with some amazing youth power. If they can upgrade their defense, they are going to be a playoff team without a doubt. Goaltending and offense has already been handled (but did anyone see Vrbata as a 40-goal man?)

 
At 7:14 PM, February 01, 2008, Anonymous Sergica said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:26 AM, February 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it is old, but if you want to see a great old barn, go to the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh before it is gone. Every seat has a great line of site to the ice and every fan feels like they are close to the action. It is refreshing to see a game in an "old time" arena like that. I know that the Penguins needed the new arena for cash purposes, but it will be a shame when my yearly trip to Pittsburgh doesn't end up at the Mellon.

 
At 12:34 PM, February 04, 2008, Blogger NeuroJoe said...

I know it is old, but if you want to see a great old barn, go to the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh before it is gone. Every seat has a great line of site to the ice and every fan feels like they are close to the action.

The only time I saw a game at the Civ we had obstructed view seats. Almost half the rink could only be seen if you ducked your head to look under the abutments. And they serve that God awful Iron City....

 
At 1:39 PM, February 04, 2008, Blogger auxlepli said...

I've been to about a dozen different NHL arenas and as of yet, none are better than the Joe Louis Arena. It has the best sight-lines in the League, and since it's essentially one bowl it has the best atmosphere too.

 

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