I've spent my entire life in Metro Detroit. If you can tell me a better place to grow up as a student of the game other than Hockeytown, please share it with me.
The heart of Hockeytown is the Joe Louis Arena. It's the home of The Captain, The Perfect Human, the Russian Five, The Production Line, The Grind Line, four Stanley Cups and so much more.
Now, that heart is being transplanted across the city, to a new location where ownership hopes it can pump championships back into its team.
I've heard all the hype about Little (ugh) Caesars Arena--excuse me, I'm just still getting used to the name--and the idea that the team is picking the greatest characteristics of all 30 NHL arenas and putting it into The District Detroit's latest accomplishment.
Though I'm confident I'll come to love the new rink, here are just a few of the aspects I'll certainly miss from the Joe.
No matter where you approach the building, it gets your heart racing. If you're coming from the east, you may cut through Cobo Hall, where people donning their finest suits and dresses spark your curiosity as to what event is going on that day. On the other side, you could end up on Steve Yzerman Drive, just a couple hundred yards from the Southeast Entrance.
Taking the Detroit Riverwalk? Not only is it a beautiful stroll that allows you a full vantage of boats, freighters, the Ambassador Bridge and a brightly lit Canada, but when you hit those back steps, you can hear the gathering crowd and feel the expectations and confidence the fans share in their team.
If you're coming from West Jefferson Avenue, you're staring down the Gordie Howe Entrance and the newly painted, sentimental steps that lead to the doors covered in an action shot of your favorite player. As you inch closer to the interior, you lose yourself in the mob of red and white while the chant "Let's Go, Red Wings" grows louder.
Maybe you coughed up the $20 and headed into the Joe Louis Parking Garage, just a couple levels and stairways away from the tunnel that makes it worth it; the same tunnel that almost reaches Congress Street on the side of Cobo and funnels into a crowd of Winged Wheels waved by friendly faces and the occasional TV camera embracing your arrival.
The Crowded Concourse
There's something about shared values that help alleviate the annoyance of the crowd. Standing in line for the bathroom becomes a little more bearable when you're ready to see your favorite team perform at its best.
Now, nobody likes carrying an overflowing beer and overpriced food through thousands of bodies, but it starts to feel like tradition with each game. It also gets a little bit easier to navigate each time--as they say, practice makes perfect.
After enough games, you no longer watch the rim of your cup as the yellow liquid sways along the edges, and you take everything in stride as your eyes are drawn to statues of icons including Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsey and Sid Abel. Suddenly, you start thinking about just how good The Production Line was.
Before you know it, you've walked the whole concourse, and it's time to find your seats.
The Seating Chart
It's been said time and again that there isn't a bad seat at the Joe. And that's because it's true.
With the crowded concourse behind you, it's time to double-check your ticket to see whether you're headed up the cracked concrete stairway or down it. This is the trickiest part of all: navigating the slim, sticky steps one at a time, hoping no one has to pass you and that you can make it to your seat without any slips or spills.
But no matter where your seat is, or whether your face is on the glass or your back is against the wall, you see everything and you love the view. There are no pillars, no badly placed cameras and no oversized railings.
There are no obstructed views whatsoever--just you and the game you love.
You look around during warm-ups, admiring the endless banners, the sky blue ceiling, wondering which legends are in the suites above today. You crane your neck to keep a keen eye on the scoreboard to avoid missing your face popping up above center ice.
The Heartwarming History
There is a lot of history. From the countless Hall-of-Famers to all of the memorable goals, every game adds to the Joe's historical significance.
The Joe is where The Streak started--25 consecutive years of playoff berths that achieved the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
With the new arena, the history will only become deeper. While it will be carried on through the fans, there's sadness in knowing your fondest memories took place at the Joe, which is set to be demolished following the 2016-17 season. It's the end of an era--one of the greatest in Detroit Red Wings history.
In the end, it's bittersweet knowing potential franchise players, including Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazek, will end their NHL careers with more games played at the new arena than the Joe.
The Red Wings are entering a new era, and the innovative arena is on a seemingly perfect timeline for a team that may be taking a slight step backward before making a large leap forward.