Little Caesars Arena's hockey debut steeped with anticipation
Detroit — The region’s 91-year love affair with the Red Wings is the reason the new Little Caesars Arena exists.
On Saturday, the Wings play the first game in their new home, an exhibition tilt against an ancient rival, the Boston Bruins.
What gives life to a building is how people use the space within, and it seems as though the most successful United States franchise in the history of the NHL now plays in a state-of-the-art hockey arena.
“I think everyone’s excited,” said the goaltender Jimmy Howard, who will start. “I think the whole city of Detroit, our fan base, us as players, the coaching staff is just excited to go out there and play a game in this building.
“We know that the workers have done such a tremendous job in this place, and the fans are in for a real treat.”
The Red Wings attained great glory in Joe Louis Arena, just as they had at Olympia Stadium.
But after five decades of the intimacy of experiencing games in the Olympia, the city built “The Joe” in great haste. Neither comfort nor functionality was stressed.
Like an old married couple, fans grew to love its inadequacies.
Rock 'n' roll already has lent its raucous imprimatur to Little Caesars Arena.
Now, it is time for the hockey.
The Pistons have a fine legacy. Entertainers will doubtlessly make the new arena the hottest spot in the state many nights throughout the decades.
But the Red Wings have the most laurels.
Meanwhile, the intention of the design of the arena, with dramatically rising rows of seats and stacked levels keeping the bowl tight, is to intimidate their opponents.
Jeff Blashill said Little Caesars Arena immediately provides home-ice advantage.
"When I look out into this rink, it feels like it is going to be a wall of people,” Blashill said, after one of two split-squad practices Friday.
“I just think the energy of being in this place alone already helps our team. It’s really energized our guys.
“I think it’ll give us a home-ice advantage, right away.”
Given the Wings’ tradition and the fan’s loyalty, passed from generation to generation, a good number of folks who have held season tickets since Olympia will file through the entrances Saturday.
“I’ve had tickets since 1972, so I’ve gone through Olympia and I’ve gone through Joe Louis Arena,” said John Firu of Dearborn Heights, as he anticipated attending the game Saturday. “There’s an old saying, first impressions are lasting.
“Well, when we went on a tour about two weeks ago, and I was extremely impressed.
“When I expressed it, one of the words I said was, ‘Wow!’ ”
Like many veteran fans, Firu says he will wait to see how traffic flows evolve around Little Caesars Arena, the behavior of those sitting near him and a basketful of other considerations that gauge a spectator’s experience.
But, so far, he thinks the sightlines, restaurants and amenities are like a new day.
“A lot of little things add up to big things, and I haven’t have that experience yet of the little things,” Firu said. “It’s hard to come to a final opinion especially before you see a game, or even after one game.
“There were a lot of problems in the transition from Olympia to Joe Louis Arena. My gut feeling is that is going to be just the opposite, here — very impressive.”
Shuffled from the center red line in row 11 at the Olympia to just inside a blue line in row 15 at Joe Louis Arena, Firu is back at the red line, in row 18, at Little Caesars Arena.
“I had the opportunity to sit in them,” he said. “The view was pretty much the same, and that is just fine.”
Sightlines are similar for much of the lower bowl. The incline of the rows is only slightly sharper than in Joe Louis Arena.
But fans will note a more dramatic difference at the upper levels. Little Caesars Arena brings even the last row of the top level comparatively close to the action.
“The bottom line for me is the new arena is very, very exciting,” Firu said. “But now, we’re going to see.
“When it starts, it is going to be a learning process between the fans and the Wings’ organization.
“The Wings organization is going to have to look at things like traffic flow and all of the little, itty-bitty things that can make the experience all the more pleasurable.”
There has been a little confusion among the Red Wings themselves — and the media — getting around their areas of the building this week.
"We invited some of the wives and girlfriends down today, so they could watch it from the wives’ room just so tomorrow they know where to go and don’t get lost in this beautiful maze,” Blashill said.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow,” the coach said, flashing an eager smile. “It’s going to be fun.”
Henrik Zetterberg (neck), Niklas Kronwall (back) and Justin Abdelkader will not play. But Blashill said he wants to play the veterans.
“We’re going to dress a good roster. I’m going to give a lot of guys that have been around here a chance to play in it because it is going to be more than just a normal exhibition game.
“Certainly, opening night of the regular season will be awesome,” he said. “But this will be a neat thing to be part of, too.”