DETROIT — Thousands of Detroit Red Wings fans showed up early to Sunday’s final game at Joe Louis Arena. That’s because dozens of current and former players walked a special red carpet to say goodbye to their fans at the 38-year-old arena.
A look back at the history: The Joe opened back in 1979. It cost $57 million to build and was named after Detroit-born champion boxer Joe Louis. The Red Wings won four Stanley Cups in the venue: 1996-1997; 1997-1998; 2001-2002; and 2007-2008.
Chevrolet sponsored the farewell red carpet event. Players arrived in Chevrolet Silverados, Tahoes and Suburbans. They were introduced by longtime public address announcer Erich Freiny. It was an emotional moment for the players and the fans alike.
“It’s definitely sad, but I’m looking forward to the new arena,” said Beth, a fan from Brighton. “My memories include my first game, when I was younger, getting my first jersey and seeing Zetterberg.”
Captain Henrik Zetterberg was the first player to arrive on the red carpet. He was followed by Frans Nielsen, who represented the Red Wings at the NHL All-Star Game.
“I’m really excited to be here and sad to see it go,” said Christie, a fan from Waterford. “I grew up playing hockey so coming here was the best place on Earth.”
Her boyfriend, Nick from Lake Orion, added: “We’re huge Red Wings fans, but it’s going to be sad to see it go. I’m going to miss the atmosphere, coming down for a game. We’re excited for the new arena.”
Many of the fans who arrived early along the velvet ropes were able to get their Red Wings merchandise autographed by the players. That included everything from jerseys, t-shirts, hats, photos and plaques.
“It’s a bummer, there’s a lot of history here,” said fan Jason Gillis from New Boston. “I just had to be down here for this last game to see it all go down. There’s too many memories to count. I’ve been to Stanley Cup Finals games and game ones and game sevens. I think one of the biggest was when they hung Stevie’s number up.”
The red carpet event began at 2 p.m. and wrapped up shortly after 3:30 p.m. Fans were allowed to enter the arena two hours before the start of the game, that’s 30 minutes earlier than normal.
When all was said and done, the Red Wings beat the New Jersey Devils, 4-1 in the final game. Riley Sheahan scored goals in the 1st and 3rd periods. Other goals were scored by Tomas Tatar and captain Henrik Zetterberg, who played his 1,000 game as a Red Wing. Meanwhile, John Moore scored the only goal for the Devils.
Joe Louis Arena is scheduled to be torn down sometime around September. That’s when the new Little Caesars Arena will become the new home for the Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. It is not yet known what will become of the prime real estate that The Joe sits on, along the banks of the Detroit River.