The Victoria Cougars. Olympia Stadium. The Detroit… Falcons? Hockey megafans may recognize these names, but for many people they evoke a “huh?” The Detroit Red Wings’ beloved Joe Louis Arena is closing at the end of this season, and a new era of Hockeytown will begin with the move to Little Caesar’s Arena at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. While we still have some time left to enjoy “The Joe,” let’s take a stroll down memory lane and explore where it fits in the history of the Detroit Red Wings.
September 25, 1926, the Victoria Cougars (that’s Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) were sold to Detroit, who had been awarded a National Hockey League franchise earlier in the year. The Cougars were the Stanley Cup Champions in 1925 and made it to the finals in 1926. Upon moving to Detroit, however, the team finished with the worst record in the NHL for the 1926-27 season. (Maybe that’s because they played their home games in Windsor!)
Things began to turn around when coach and general manager Jack Adams, a former professional hockey player, arrived in 1927. That year, the team moved into the brand new Olympia Stadium. Adams changed the team’s name to the Detroit Falcons in 1930, though financial troubles meant that he was forced to use his own money for payroll. Worse, the Falcons had only made the playoffs twice in their first six seasons.
Everything changed, though, when millionaire James Norris Sr. purchased the team. He and Adams decided the team would be called the Red Wings, changing the logo to a winged wheel reminiscent of Norris’s old team, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association’s Winged Wheelers.
With stability and talent, the Red Wings began to make a name for themselves in the NHL, making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1934 but losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. After a disappointing 1934-1935 season, the Wings went on to win back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 1936 and 1937.
Many amazing players skated at the Olympia for the Wings. The Production Line of “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Sid “The Kid” Abel led the Wings to Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955, aided by legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk. All four players now have their jerseys retired. Other Red Wings legends, like Alex Delvecchio and Marcel Pronovost, helped make the Red Wings a force to be reckoned with during the 50s and 60s.
Joe Louis Arena
In 1979, the Red Wings moved from Olympia Stadium on Grand River to Joe Louis Arena, a riverfront location beside Cobo Center (then Cobo Hall). The Wings played their first game at the arena named for the Detroit-native boxing champion on December 27, 1979.
Joe Louis Arena is beloved in the NHL, and the facility has hosted some of the greatest moments in hockey history. Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky played in their only NHL All-Star Game together at The Joe in 1980. Sergei Fedorov scored 5 goals in a 5-4 victory over the Washington Capitals in 1996 – effectively beating them by himself. The Wings-Avalanche rivalry came to a head with the Claude Lemieux-Darren McCarty brawl of 1997, the same year Steve Yzerman lead the wings to their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.
After a tragic crash following their Stanley Cup win, the team honored injured Red Wings Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatskanov at the 1997 home opener. The team repeated as Cup championships, winning the 1998 playoffs, and many of the same players won it all again at The Joe in 2002. That team is regarded as one of the best in team history, with nine Hall of Fame players including Yzerman, Federov, Igor Larionov, and Nicklas Lidstrom. All in all, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups while playing at Joe Louis Arena, cementing the building in hockey history.
The building has also provided a backdrop for many other great memories over the years, including the annual Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament, the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (which featured the infamous attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan), the 2009 WWE Royal Rumble, and the deciding game of Detroit Shock’s 2006 WNBA championship, as well as hundreds of concerts from Rush to N.W.A., six consecutive Garth Brooks concerts, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters, Zac Brown Band and so many more.
What’s your favorite memory from The Joe? Let us know in the comments!