Detroit — A legendary announcer, a veteran player and an old hockey barn.
Bob Cole, of the CBC, and Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings were in Joe Louis Arena Saturday for the morning skates, before the Red Wings play the Canadiens at 7 p.m.
Normally, the 11-time Stanley Cup winners playing the 24-time Stanley Cup winners (22 since the advent of the NHL) stirs memories even beyond the other four so-called Original Six teams.
But, on the last weekend the NHL will play hockey, in Joe Louis Arena?
“Well, I had some great games to call here,” said Cole, 83, who will perform the play-by-play tonight on Hockey Night in Canada, adding to his 38 years in the role for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It’s the atmosphere in the building, and many Canadians are here from across the river. It’s marvelous, you know?
“They call it Hockeytown.”
When Darren McCarty beat the Flyers’ defensemen Janne Niinimaa and goalie Ron Hextall in 1997 for a goal that delivered the first Stanley Cup to the Red Wings in 42 years, Cole’s stirring narration went like this:
“Puck in, for Konstantinov. Brind’Amour takes him in along the boards.
“Red Wings will get it up. One-on-one is McCarty, coming in there on Niinimaa. He beat him!
And Detroit, of course, was pronounced with the distinctly Canadian accent, “de-TROY-it!”
For Cole, Joe Louis Arena is wrapped up in a career of memories about hockey and the Red Wings.
“I was fortunate to get started when Howe and Delvecchio and Mr. Sid Abel were the big, big people with Detroit, and then Terry Sawchuk and on and on and on.
“Yep, great memories. And too many to recall really.”
Among them is the new generation of Red Wings who, with the ownership of Mike and Marian Ilitch, restored the splendor of the franchise.
“Well, Steve Yzerman is a special person, you know?” Cole said. “If he had gone into medicine or law or whatever, he would have been a first-class winner in that category, too.
“First-class hockey player. Great to watch. Thrilling to broadcast games, where Steve played.”
Asked if the building reminded him of any others around the league, Cole was succinct, “No, it’s got its own character.
“And they forgot to put a broadcast booth in when they built the place, they tell me,” Cole said.
“I believe it, because where we broadcast, there’s not very much room
“But, look, no matter where I’m situated to do a hockey game in the NHL and a Stanley Cup is on the line it doesn’t matter. There really is no bad place.
“And it’s a little booth. It’s cozy. There’s no room, really, for much.
“But I can feel the game, and the fans are right there and they always come by to say ‘hello,’ a lot of them.”
Meanwhile, the Red Wings captain seemed wistful, speaking to the media, which Saturday included a throng from Canada large enough to make one think of the playoffs.
While that may be the only missing ingredient this weekend, Zetterberg has soldiered on, rallying young troops, playing out every game, despite the brutal NHL schedule caused by a preseason international tournament.
Zetterberg is to play in career game No. 999 Saturday, against Montreal, making Sunday a milestone of considerable note in the history of the franchise for a reason beyond closing Joe Louis Arena.
The 36-year-old has now played in every game for two seasons, three years removed from back surgery.
“Well, that it will end up at tomorrow’s game makes it even more special,” Zetterberg said. “Couldn’t pick a better game, I think.
“It’s going to be emotional. We’re going to have a lot of players who played for this team coming in, so there’s going to be a lot of faces that you played with.
“To be honest,” Zetterberg said, “I’ve probably played a lot more with a lot of those than I’ve done with the guys I’m playing with this year.
“So, it’s going to be a special day, and a special time.”
Asked to name his most-prized moment in the building, Zetterberg said the two Stanley Cup finals against the Penguins in 2008 and 2009 — eight and nine years ago.
“Obviously, we won in ’08 and lost in ’09 but those two series will probably stick out,” he said.
“But closing down The Joe is going to be a special, special game, with all of the history and all of the players that are coming in for that game, having all the fans in the building for that game, it’s going to be a night that we all will remember.”