The days of NHL hockey at Joe Louis Arena are coming to a close.
Although the Red Wings’ new downtown arena isn’t scheduled to open until 2017, those who love the old building a chip shot from the Detroit River are relishing the time they have left.
Opened in 1979, Joe Louis Arena is the third-oldest arena in the NHL, although Madison Square Garden has been completely renovated and the Edmonton Oilers will leave Rexall Place after this season.
“I didn’t win the Cup there, but it’s cool to look at all those banners and see your friends’ names in the rafters,’’ said Florida coach Gerard Gallant, who played in Detroit from 1984-93. “When I came in, it was a first-class arena. Now it’s been 35 years and they’re getting rid of it. That’s the way things go. But it’s a great place to play.’’
For Florida defenseman Steven Kampfer, Sunday’s game against the Red Wings will hold a special place, as the Michigan native will play at “The Joe” as an NHL player for the first time.
It won’t be the first time Kampfer plays on this ice. Not even close.
As a youngster growing up in Jackson — about an hour-plus drive on I-94 from Detroit — Kampfer was part of the famed Little Caesars youth team which shared the arena with the powerhouse NHL team.
“I know the ins-and-outs of that building probably more than guys who play for the Red Wings,’’ Kampfer said. “You can go through a door and you’re on a catwalk overlooking the ice. We used to go up there as kids during intermissions. It’s a great barn.”
Kampfer, who has played in 92 NHL games, has faced his hometown Red Wings once while with the Bruins.
During the 2010-11 season, Kampfer was expected to play in Detroit but surprisingly was a late scratch.
After getting a bunch of tickets for family and friends, he ended up watching the game, like them, from the stands.
“It was a shock to find out the night before that I wasn’t playing,’’ he said. “It was awesome to go home, get to play in your home rink and then you get scratched. I just got the short end of that stick. I honestly thought they were joking with me at first.’’
Kampfer will be in the lineup Sunday for the Panthers and expects close to 50 friends and family members to be in the building — many of whom wearing Panthers gear instead of their usual red and white Detroit garb.
Kampfer said his concentration will be in helping the Panthers get two more points and gain ground in the playoff chase. Florida is five points back of Detroit for one of the two wild-card spots in the East.
“I’ll soak it in before the game and maybe dwell on it afterward,’’ said Kampfer, a Michigan grad who planned on going to the Wolverines hockey game in Ann Arbor on Saturday night.
“During the game, it will be all business. To win in the arena I grew up in though would make it that much sweeter.”
▪ Alex Petrovic didn’t practice Saturday and has been bothered by an ankle injury.
Florida called up Dylan Olsen from its AHL team in Portland, Maine. Olsen didn’t play in a single preseason game nor regular-season game while with the Panthers earlier this season but should make his season debut Sunday.
Olsen, 24, has played in 88 games with the Panthers since coming over from Chicago in the 2013 Kris Versteeg deal.
“He’s ready,’’ Gallant said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back and giving him a chance.”
▪ Jaromir Jagr left Friday’s game against the Islanders in the third period with a slight knee injury and didn’t return. He practiced Saturday, and Gallant said he will be back in the lineup Sunday.
“I tried in the second period, and it just didn’t feel good,’’ Jagr said. “In the third period, I couldn’t do it. It’s pretty good [Saturday]. It’s going to get better and better.”
Sunday: Panthers at Red Wings
When/where: 2 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560; WMEN 640; WNMA 1210.
Series: Detroit leads 16-7-5.
Scouting report: The Panthers won three of four meetings against the Red Wings last season and have won four in a row at Joe Louis Arena. All five of Florida’s wins in Detroit have come in the past six meetings.