Joe Louis Arena was the Red Wings' happy place

Joe Louis Arena was the Red Wings' happy place

Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination there on his way to the White House. Thomas Hearns won a WBA welterweight title bout there. Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan screamed "Why?! Why?! Why?!" there after an accomplice of rival Tonya Harding's clubbed Kerrigan in the right knee.

But mostly, the Detroit Red Wings won plenty of hockey games there.

This week, after opening 37 years and five months ago, Joe Louis Arena will close its doors for good. The Red Wings will play their final three regular-season games against the Ottawa Senators on Monday, the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.

They will move into the state-of-the-art $740-million US Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit in September, a building they will share with the NBA's Detroit Pistons.

Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings wanted to give the old barn one more foray into the playoffs, but a 26th post-season berth in a row was not in the cards this spring.

Maybe it's fitting. The Red Wings didn't make the playoffs in their first four seasons at the Joe, and now their stay at the aging building on Detroit's waterfront will end that way.

Remember the good times

There were plenty of good times in between for Detroit's hockey team.

They closed the old Olympia with a 4-4 tie against the Quebec Nordiques on Dec. 15, 1979 and opened the Joe with a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 27.

When the late Mike Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982 he hired Jim Devellano away from the New York Islanders' dynasty to rebuild Motown's hockey team. The turnaround was swift. The Red Wings advanced to the conference finals in 1987 and 1988 but couldn't get past Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.

The Red Wings would miss the playoffs only once between 1987 and last season, and that was in 1990. They were on their way that season but missed the playoffs by six points, derailed when U.S. customs agents discovered 14 grams of cocaine in the underwear of Red Wings tough guy Bob Probert.

During that time, Detroit made six trips to the Stanley Cup final, won four championships, and enjoyed two title celebrations on home ice — in 1997 to end a 42-year drought and again in 2002. The latter saw head coach Scotty Bowman take a victory lap on skates with the Stanley Cup and then announce his retirement.

There is a long list of Hockey Hall of Famers who played for the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena: Brad Park, Darryl Sittler, Viacheslav Fetisov, Bernie Federko, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey, Igor Larionov, Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Brett Hull, Dino Ciccarelli, Mark Howe, Adam Oates, Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek, Mike Modano, Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Illitch, Devellano and Bowman were inducted as builders.

Mr. Hockey's place

There wasn't a bad seat in the house at the Joe, whether in the lower or upper bowls. The sightlines were terrific for not only Red Wings games, but also for concerts and basketball and other sporting events.

It was built for $57 million in the late 1970s and is now the second-oldest building in the NHL, behind the recently renovated Madison Square Garden.

The first event at the Joe was a college basketball game between the University of Michigan and the University of Detroit. One of the most memorable moments was held two months later, when a record crowd of 21,002 piled in to give legend Gordie Howe a lengthy standing ovation that clearly made him emotional and uncomfortable. No. 9 was with the Hartford Whalers back then in his final NHL season.

A little more than 36 years later, thousands lined up to pay their respects to Mr. Hockey at his visitation at Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings weren't the only team to win championships at the Joe. So did the Detroit Drive (arena football), Detroit Shock (WNBA) and the Detroit Junior Red Wings defeated the Guelph Storm in Game 6 to capture the Robertson Cup as OHL champions in 1995.

In 1984, Pistons great Isiah Thomas scored a remarkable 16 points in the final 94 seconds of regulation time to send a playoff game against the New York Knicks into overtime.

Rush played the first concert there. WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin was once run down in the parking lot by a rival heel named Rikishi at a Survivor Series event there.

Old Joe Louis Arena packed in plenty of memories in its history and will forever be part of the Red Wings' history because they won and celebrated there.