Last days of Joe Louis Arena ‘bittersweet’ to Wings fans

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — Joe Louis Arena isn’t the prettiest place to watch a game. And the price of tickets has skyrocketed over the years.

Ron Panczyk, 65, talks about "the Joe" while having a pregame drink at the Anchor bar.

But, oh, how Red Wings fans will miss it. The mournful farewell to the Joe began with its next-to-last game Saturday and will finish with a finale on Sunday.

“I’m kinda bummed,” said Ron Panczyk of Detroit. “Everything has to come to an end I guess.”

Panczyk, 65, was having dinner with a friend at the Anchor bar before Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadians.

The Wings are moving to spanking-new Little Caesars Arena, which they will share with the Detroit Pistons. Fans said they were excited about the new digs, but that’s not where their thoughts were this weekend.

If parting is sweet sorrow, it was doubly sad because it comes during a season where their magical playoff streak ended after 25 years, said fans.

One of Shane Gibson’s favorite memories of the Joe is success, he said. Just 22, he doesn’t know about the mediocre Wings of yore. He knows only the teams that have won four Stanley Cups.

Mark Gison, 61, and his son Shane Gibson, 22, reminisce about Joe Louis Arena and the Red Wings games they've seen before heading over to the game tonight.

“It’s like a second home to me,” said the St. Clair Shores resident. “There’s something about it that is different from other stadiums.”

Speaking of the departed, he wore the jersey of Pavel Datsyuk, who left the team last year to play hockey in Russia.

Gibson, who shared a pregame meal with his dad at the Anchor, said he may cry during the Saturday contest.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “It’s a piece of history.”

His dad, Mark, 61, is old enough to remember the bad old days, the days when the team was called the Dead Wings, the days when the organization had to offer cars to entice people through the doors.

Mark also remembers the Olympia, where the Wings played before moving into the Joe in 1979. In fact, he went to one of the last games there and, after it closed and was falling apart, he carted away several pieces of it.

Among his bounty: several bricks, four seats and the center ice boards, which are as long as a pool table. He used a friend’s pickup truck to drive onto the ice and remove the boards. He then fashioned the boards into a bar that sits in his basement, using it to serve drinks during Wings games.

“The Olympia teams weren’t so good. I’ll miss the Joe because of the (team’s) success,” he said.

Panczyk, who has been a season-ticket holder for 33 seasons, said his favorite memory of the Joe was the team winning the Stanley Cup in 1997, ending a 42-year drought.

But it’s hard for him to single out other highlights.

“I’ve been to so many games it’s all a blur,” he said.

As Panczyk prepares to watch the Wings at a third different address next year, one tradition won’t change. He’ll continue to eat his pregame meals at the Anchor, catching its bus to the new arena.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell