Troy Murray remembers those nasty days of the Blackhawks-Detroit Red Wings rivalry, especially those games at Joe Louis Arena. Given the animosity between the two teams, it usually didn’t take much for emotions in those games to boil over. But one particular night at Joe Louis, Ed Belfour decided to add fuel to the fire anyway.
"A scrum happened beside the net and Eddie Belfour hit Bob Probert with his blocker, just sucker punched him, and it didn’t faze him. Then everything broke loose," Murray said. "Keith Brown and I both had Bob Probert, and I basically was on his back and Browney was in front of him. Probert just peeled me off his back and pulled me around, and had both me and Keith Brown strung out [at arm’s length] like that. Me and Browney are thinking, 'Now what do we do?’"
Thanks to the realignment, the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry is pretty much a thing of the past. By the end of this season, Joe Louis Arena will be, too.
The Joe was never the prettiest building in the league. It’s dank. There’s a smell that can only be described as a cross between disinfectant and stale beer. Their press box looks more like a bar, although considering it caters to sportswriters that may have simply been genius design. Still, there’s something special about that type of building. It’s small and intimate. Fans are right on top of the action. There’s no such thing as a bad seat – the press area included.
As coach Joel Quenneville said, "It was always a hard building to play in. The octopus was a regular visitor. Joe Louis had that feeling. It reminded me, of the smell of the place and existence, of the Old Stadium."
It’s definitely the last of a dying breed, and Blackhawks past and present will always remember it.
Eddie Olczyk’s memories of The Joe range from his own scuffle with Probert – "I just grabbed Probie by the waist and held on" – to his playoff overtime winner against the Wings when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs. For Olczyk, Joe Louis is right up there with Chicago Stadium, the old Igloo in Pittsburgh and the original Boston Garden.
"Those are places that I looked at as a kid, and then I got the great privilege to be able to play in them. But The Joe is the last one. It’s the one that still connects the past to the present, when you think of all the players," Olczyk said. "The vivid memory of going into the Joe was a feel of more than just a game. It was an event. It was a great place to play, the crowd right on top of you. I don’t want to steal a phrase from Slap Shot, but it’s old-time hockey."
For current players, it would be easy to look back at that 2013 playoff series, especially when Brent Seabrook skated over to give Jonathan Toews a penalty-box pep talk. But for most of the veteran Blackhawks, their 2009 postseason series against the Wings, who were then still the cream of the NHL crop, loomed larger.
"We had a good playoff series the first time we went to the conference final and kind of fell on our face," Toews said. "We learned a hard lesson with a team that had a lot of experience winning."
Seabrook looks back at that 2013 Toews talk as, "just a thing that happens throughout games. Not trying to do anything other than win the game." His fondest memories of Joe Louis go further back.
"I think the feelings I had, being able to watch them for so many years, what they were able to do when I was a kid was the cool part. Being able to play there my first couple of years, it was such a great team when we first got into the league and they usually kicked our butt. But there was always something about that building," Seabrook said. "It was cool to be in the league and be a part of it."
From a hockey standpoint, we’d be remiss to mention JLA without talking about those springy end boards. There isn’t a visiting player or goaltender who’s struggled to figure those things out. Tanner Kero, who played in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis while he attended Michigan Tech, said it took time to get used to them.
"We’d always have one practice before the tournament started. Our coaches would always point that out, take shots from the point, see which directions they’d bounce and get a feel for it," Kero said. "The history of the Joe is pretty tremendous. Growing up, watching the Red Wings, you got a feel for all the teams that went through there. It’ll be a pretty emotional thing for the community to see that transition, but it’s a new step, a new direction."
Yes, all good things must end and all old-school arenas eventually make way for shiny new ones. The shiny new ones are big and pretty. They have more amenities, more luxury boxes. They also have less character. Joe Louis Arena isn't pretty. But for hockey fans, from its octopus to its boards to its intimate setting, it will still be one of the most memorable arenas long after it's gone.
"There are a lot of great memories and the history goes way beyond my time in the league," Toews said. "It’s cool to play in that building. And you appreciate it a little more when you’re playing your last game there and that team’s moving on."