Florida Panthers

Cup of Joe: Panthers play final regular season game at Detroit’s historic arena

The Florida Panthers take to the ice for what could be their final morning skate at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Thursday.
The Florida Panthers take to the ice for what could be their final morning skate at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Thursday. @GeorgeRichards

Ever since it opened in 1979, Joe Louis Arena has been the epicenter of the place they call ‘Hockeytown.’

That all changes next fall when the Detroit Red Wings move across downtown to a sparkling new arena they will now share with the Pistons.

The Florida Panthers play their final regular season game at ‘The Joe’ on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., FSFL) and unless they meet up with the Red Wings in the playoffs – which is possible – it would be their last game at the arena.

"I don’t have any good memories here because the [Wings] have always been so good," said Jaromir Jagr, who comes into Thursday with six goals and 14 points in 22 games at Joe Louis Arena.

"It has been tough to score goals against Detroit in this arena. … It’s good for the fans because things are just getting better and better, the new arenas are more comfortable for everyone. They want to make it grat for the fans with better seats, clubs, all that stuff. It’s 2017 so everyone is moving forward."

A number of Florida players and coaches have ties to the area or the Red Wings themselves.

Interim coach Tom Rowe played for the Red Wings during the 1982-83 season when this building still had that new-arena smell. That was Rowe’s final of eight NHL seasons.

"I loved it here, was only here for a little while," Rowe said. "There’s a lot of history here with Gordie Howe, Niklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman; when you come in here, there’s an awful lot of history."

Former Florida coach Gerard Gallant played for the Red Wings from 1984-93 and has said while the arena was state-of-the-art when it opened, it is time for a new home for the team.

Jagr and goalie Roberto Luongo – who makes his 18th start at Joe Louis Arena (9-5-2) on Thursday – tend to agree although both note the history of the building.

"I have had a lot of experiences here, played my first game as a [Vancouver] Canuck here so it has a special meeting," Luongo said.

"But for me, I just want to grab the two points and get out of here. All of the older buildings have their special charms to them. But we’re modernizing, moving into higher-tech buildings. It’s nice as well. But there’s a lot of history in this building."

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad plays in his sixth and final game at the arena he grew up watching and rooting on his hometown team.

Although Ekblad didn’t grow up on the Michigan side of the Detroit River, his home across the way in Windsor, Ontario, isn’t very far away at all.

In his first NHL game here with the Panthers almost two years ago to the day on Dec. 2, 2014, scored in the third period helping the Panthers win 4-3.

Florida comes into Thursday with wins in six of their past seven at ‘The Joe.’

"This is pretty special and I didn’t even realize this will be my last game here," Ekblad said. "I remember my first game here, coming out at 9:30 in the morning and took a video as I went around the rink so I could show my friends.

“It was a really special moment and I still have that video. I looked at it the other day."

Florida center Vincent Trocheck also has fond childhood memories of the arena as the Pittsburgh native moved to Detroit to play for the famed Little Caesars youth program for three seasons.

When the Panthers come into the arena, they not only walk past the Little Caesars logo painted on the wall, but they have to pass Trocheck’s old locker room on the way into the visitors’ room.

Trocheck also played in his first NHL game at Joe Louis Arena with Ekblad on Dec. 2, 2014, and scored a goal as well.

"Every time I come here is fun, getting to play in front of a lot of people I know," Trocheck said. "This is my home rink and being in the next locker room over is pretty cool. Coming back here is fun. This is Joe Louis Arena, there’s so much history here it’s a Detroit landmark.

"These [arenas] are sort of a dying breed, fading away. Edmonton, the Igloo in Pittsburgh … What can you do? Everything is getting new."


Take Flight: Check out the latest views of #LittleCaesarsArena. #districtdetroit #aerialmonday @littlecaesarsarena

A video posted by The District Detroit (@districtdetroit) on

The arena opened in 1979 and replaced the Olympia Stadium which originally housed one of the NHL’s original franchises.

Named after famed boxer Joe Louis who grew up in the Detroit area, the arena has definitely seen better days although it is beloved by fans who grew up watching the success the Wings had here.

After building themselves up from the old ‘Dead Wings’ era, the Red Wings won four Stanley Cup championships in this building and have advanced to the playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons – the longest active postseason streak in North American pro sports.

Both teams come into Thursday’s game a point behind New Jersey for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

"This is a completely different experience playing here; the glass is different, the boards are different," Ekblad said. "The experience and atmosphere playing here is very different. It’s always a treat to play here."

Said Rowe: "It will be a real treat for all of us to come here. Unfortunately, this is our last game here, but we’ll always remember it."

Thursday: Panthers at Red Wings

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.

Series: Detroit leads 19-14-5.

Scouting report: The Red Wings have come on of late, winning three of their past four including a 3-1 victory over visiting Dallas on Tuesday. Detroit had lost four consecutive games before winning at Buffalo before Thanksgiving.

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