By: Will Burchfield
Zach Werenski played his first game in Joe Louis Arena when he was nine years old, and he’ll likely play his final one there on Tuesday night when the Blue Jackets visit the Red Wings. So the 19-year-old defenseman from Grosse Pointe Woods wrote a farewell letter on Monday to the building that helped him “fall in love with hockey.”
Werenski, who is taking the NHL by storm in his rookie season, said, as a kid, “All I ever wanted was to play a game at The Joe and to be a Detroit Red Wing… Six-year-old Zach saw your sheet of ice as the ultimate goal. It meant everything to lace up my skates and twirl on the same ice as all the greats to wear the winged wheel.”
Werenski said he chose to play defense in youth hockey because he “wanted to be Nick Lidstrom.” And he wore No. 13 all the way through college because he “idolized Pavel Dastyuk.
“The allure and prestige of Joe Louis Arena is what motivated me as a kid,” Werenski said, “and I would’ve done anything to fulfill the dream of ‘one day, you could play at The Joe.'”
He got that opportunity for the first time as a nine-year-old squirt on the Grosse Pointe Bulldogs.
“There was nothing like it, and looking back on it now, it was so much better as a kid because I feel like I appreciated it more. I soaked up every second. I don’t think I actually believed it was happening,” he said.
Werenski would return to play at the Joe numerous times over the next several years, including during his days at the University of Michigan. Unless the Red Wings and Blue Jackets face off in the playoffs, Tuesday’s homecoming will be Werenski’s last.
“Make no mistake: we’re coming to The Joe for two points on Tuesday night, but there’s zero chance I won’t be taking a few extra looks around the place,” he said. “I mean, how could I not? I started playing hockey because I wanted to play at The Joe,” he said.
“So I wanted to make sure I said ‘thank you,’ Joe Louis Arena. Thank you for the memories and for housing the tradition, for representing a historic franchise and for helping a wide-eyed kid from suburban Detroit fall in love with hockey.”