It seems like just yesterday that I attended my first game at the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. It was an exhibition game against those dreaded Colorado Avalanche, with nothing on the line but everything on the line.
A battle with a hated rival.
I went to the game with my mom and dad and I still remember the trip vividly, even though it was probably 14 years ago. It was one of those childhood moments you never forget. My dad had received box seats, where I probably gorged myself with food and probably drank so much pop my stomach hurt.
But then, in the third period, we moved down into the arena bowl, sitting amongst the "plebs." The smells, sights and sounds are still entrenched in me to this day.
I'm remembering this moment now because the Joe's time is coming to an end.
It was as ugly a rink as ugly can come. It was a concrete block hidden in downtown Detroit, a stone's throw from the river.
To get there you would walk through the Cobo Center, down Steve Yzerman Drive, up those iconic steep steps.
It was simple, spartan, and unspectacular.
But it was also home.
I don't know what it was about the place. Maybe it was the banners and retired jerseys hanging from the rafters. The Red Wings of the past two decades, playing in the Joe, have been the model franchise in the National Hockey League. Period. Full stop.
Or maybe it was the people that filled the Joe's red seats night in and night out. When arenas across the league turned corporate, full of suits drinking champagne and eating caviar, the Joe remained the working man's arena. It was blue collar and Bud Light. Jeans and Darren McCarty jerseys. Hockey casual, through and through.
But probably it was the memories.
Memories like Darren McCarty, beating the you-know-what out of Claude Lemieux after Lemieux introduced Kris Draper's face to the boards with an all-time dirty hit.
Memories like the 2002 cup win, when the Red Wings sent legendary coach Scotty Bowman out a champion. The franchise won two Cups on the Joe Louis Arena ice.
Or memories like Gordie Howe's visitation at the Joe, when seemingly the entire city of Detroit showed up to pay their respects to the timeless legend.
The Joe is set to be torn down after this season, in exchange for the glamorous new Little Caesars Arena. The change is much needed. But the memories of the Joe will live on.
Inside the confines of the rink, Detroit became a hockey town. Actually, the Hockeytown.
No city in America loves hockey as much as Detroit. And it was in that barren, concrete slab that the greatest chapter of the city's hockey story was written.
But it's not over. Hockey is a continuum, and while the Red Wings will miss the playoffs this season for the first time in 25 years, Little Caesars Arena will be certain to make its own memories.
There's something existential about the end of the Joe. So many special moments for so many people happened in those stale, beer-smelling, history-soaked hallways. And as we say goodbye to the Joe, we all close a chapter of our own personal history.
So when the Red Wings game with the New Jersey Devils ended on Sunday, April 9, 2017, a number of things happened.
The Joe Louis Arena buzzer sounded for the last time. Zamboni driver Al Sobotka swung around that octopus, for the last time. And the men donning the winged wheel skated off the ice for the last time.
We'll shed some tears and we'll say our goodbyes. And we'll say thank you, for all the great memories.
And then we'll move on and start a new chapter of Detroit's hockey story. Because that's life.
So farewell, Joe.
You will be missed.