Krupa: Joe’s history will be difficult to transplant
Detroit — What the Red Wings will miss about Joe Louis Arena is all the winning they did, unless they carry that mantle with them to Little Caesars Arena.
The players who would accomplish a successful transition are of a new generation.
They say they are grateful for the opportunity to have played in the arena where four Stanley Cup teams triumphed, and the Red Wings tradition is displayed on the walls almost everywhere they walk, hangs from the rafters and seems to linger in the air.
Rebuilding the club switched into a higher gear at the trade deadline because of the Wings’ worst season in 26 years. A concern is that the culture of winning will be lost.
Those most responsible for maintaining it say they are grateful for having played in Joe Louis Arena early in their career.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a great feeling to be part of this organization, and this building, getting the opportunity to play in it is something I’ll remember forever,” said Andreas Athanasiou, part of the new vanguard.
“I think for all the young guys, they really appreciate it.”
Capturing the hearts and minds of players is a sustainable foundation for winning Stanley Cups.
In Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings have shown how it is done.
From the rafters supporting the giant ceiling of the cavernous arena hang 51 banners proclaiming the accomplishments of the team, including the 11 Stanley Cups, which rank the Wings third among NHL teams.
Seven other banners commemorate the careers and retired numbers of Sid Abel, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom.
“There’s a lot of history here,” said the first-year defenseman Nick Jensen. “You think about all the great players who have played here, it’s amazing.”
“It’s probably one of the most unique places to play in the NHL.”
Smell the history
Along the street level concourse in areas mostly unseen by fans throughout the years, the 1996-97 roster is listed, from ceiling to floor, in large red letters on a pure white wall just outside the Red Wings dressing room.
Players must pass it walking in from the parking lot, but only after the walk through the Olympia Room, chock full of photographs of great players and memories of the past.
The 1997-98 Cup winning team is displayed the same way inside the big loading dock.
The 2001-02 Stanley Cup roster is near the executive offices.
The 2007-08 Cup winning team is displayed at the door of the visitors’ dressing room.
“You see all that every day coming in here,” Jensen said. “It kind of reminds you of the culture you have to keep up if you want to play here.”
In between the dressing rooms is a massive white wall displaying in red the names and seasons of all the Wings players and coaches who won NHL trophies and awards: nine Harts (most valuable player), nine Norrises (best defenseman), five Vezinas (best goalie), seven Art Rosses (scoring), five Conn Smythes (most valuable player in playoffs), seven Selkes (best defensive forward), four Jack Adams (best coach) and five Calders (rookie of the year).
Along with: two Ted Lindsays (most outstanding player, from players’ union), four Plus/Minuses, two Jennings (goalies, fewest goals against), 14 Lady Byngs (sportsmanship and ability), one King Clancy (leadership, humanitarian), two Mastertons (perseverance, sportsmanship) and eight Lester Patricks (service to hockey in the United States).
“You know, when you get drafted by this team, what it means, what the organization is and the culture of this team,” the 23-year-old defenseman Xavier Ouellet said.
“I got to see this culture. The building is a big part of it, because of the Stanley Cups here. It’s an old rink, you can smell it when you walk in, you can feel the history.”
On the big white wall adjacent to the trophies and awards, are lists in red of the six Red Wings who won four Stanley Cups in the 1950s — Gordie Howe, Red Kelly, Ted Lindsay, Marty Pavelich, Marcel Pronovost and Johnny Wilson; and the four who won four in the 1990s and 2000s — Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kirk Maltby.
Across the concourse is the large, green, State of Michigan highway sign that once directed fans to exit at Grand River for Olympia Stadium.
As they enter their dressing rooms for the first time Red Wings and even visiting players sometimes stop to drink it all in, reading the categories of great achievement in their sport, the names of the men who accomplished it and the great hockey history of the city.
All of it was intended not so much to impress, as to instill.
“When I signed with the Red Wings, my goal was to play at least one game in this building,” said Dylan Larkin, who saw his first game in Joe Louis Arena when he was four years old, and keeps special memories of watching his first Stanley Cup playoffs game live in 2008.
“I was fortune enough to play two years. For myself, it’s valuable experience to be able to play with guys like Pavs (Pavel Dasyuk) and Z. (Henrik Zetterberg) and Kroner (Niklas Kronwall), and have them around, and know what it’s like to feel how to win here and feel that legacy, and carry it on.”
They can move the banners and the photographs to Little Caesars Arena. They can paint the walls with the great triumphs of the franchise.
Lindsay, Delvecchio and Lidstrom might still visit them.
But the Red Wings in Little Caesars Arena will not be entirely like the Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena until they win the Stanley Cup.
Some young guys who hope to do that one day are grateful for their days in The Joe.
They think the old building helped.