Detroit — They were impressed.
The fans. The guys who have played hockey in enough buildings in North America to make a well-considered judgment.
A veteran broadcaster who started out in Port Huron on WHSL long ago, and knows a thing or two about how the game is presented.
Oh, and you know “the commish” likes a new arena!
The Red Wings played their first regular-season game in the Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, and before the evening finished, they might as well have awarded the first star to the building.
“There was another owner who’s seeking a building and came for a tour a month ago,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And I asked Chris Ilitch if he was weeping when he got done seeing this! I love this building.
“This is something that represents Detroit and our league very well.”
For once, fans seem to agree with the commissioner of a sport.
“We can see what this new arena has to offer,” said Will McVey of Webberville. “I loved Joe Louis Arena, and it’s too bad it’s gone. But this is really something to see.”
McVey’s girlfriend, Sarah Donner, of Brighton, bought him tickets for his birthday.
“It’s exciting!” Donner said. “I wanted to be here, and knew it would be great for him to see.”
Tomas Holmstrom thought so, too.
“For me, it’s wow!” said the retired Red Wings forward, watching the morning skate with his frequent automobile passenger and Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
“It’s top of the line for sure. It’s going to be nice to see the full house, the sound of the crowd, the cheering. That’s going to be top of line, too, I’m sure.”
Lidstrom said his immediate impression came from the intimacy of the seating bowl, and the competitive edge that comes with it.
“It seems like the fans are more on top of you than at ‘The Joe,’” Lidstrom said. “The upper bowl is more steep. It seems like you are just closer to the action.”
Asked about the vastly improved facilities for the players, Holmstrom and Lidstrom were clearly envious, and already identifying what a difference it can make.
“We walked around and saw everything down below, the facilities,” Lidstrom said. “It’s impressive.
“They thought of everything. I think it’s an advantage for the guys. It’s a big advantage to have the practice rink right there.
“To have the same locker room all the time and the same facilities all the time for your treatments, I think it makes a big difference."
The first game of the regular season was sold out, the Red Wings said. But lots of empty seats were visible on TV, with fans absorbed by the activities — and TV monitors — out on the sprawling concourse.
Mike “Doc” Emrick, the veteran play-by-play broadcaster for NBC Sports, who began calling Port Huron Flags games in 1973, travels the NHL every season.
As he stood in the Wings dressing room after the morning skate, without prompting, Emrick provided a simple appraisal.
“There isn’t anything about this arena I haven’t liked,” Emrick said. “I shot 40 stills on Friday morning and got two copies of each made at Walmart!”
Bettman said that big NHL events — an All-Star Game, an entry draft — would eventually come to Little Caesars Arena.
“Every seat in the house is great,” said Bettman, who toured the cavernous, sprawling building, even sitting in the last row.
“This arena, in addition to being state of the art, it has every conceivable amenity, an incredible use of technology, and a remarkable tie to the history and tradition of this great Original Six franchise.
“I want to congratulate Chris Ilitch, obviously, and Marian Ilitch, and I know this is a place that Mike Ilitch would have been enormously proud of.”