By: Will Burchfield
Scotty Bowman knows it’s time for the Red Wings to move on from Joe Louis Arena, but that hasn’t made it any easier for him to accept.
“It’s tough,” Bowman said. “You never thought it would happen. But I understand with the new rink. The fans are still great fans and they’re still going to support the team, which is most important.”
The Wings closed the curtain on a 38-year show at The Joe on Sunday, with a new one set to begin next season at Little Caesars Arena. For Bowman, the director of so many memorable performances in the late 90s and early 2000s, there is one thing about the old building that resonates the most.
“The people,” he said. “Everybody seemed to feel like they were part of the team. I knew them all, the maintenance people, Tom Schlang, Sheldon Nueman, Al Sobotka, all those guys. It’s just amazing how they all felt part of the team. They liked to talk to the players and people that worked for the Wings and I think it’s a special kind of company.”
As longtime radio announcer Ken Kel recalls, Schlang was an electrician – he’d go on to become the chief engineer at Olympia Entertainment – and Nueman was the team’s director of broadcasting. Sobotka, of course, was the building operations manager, the Zamboni driver and the guy who scooped up all those octopi splattered across the Joe Louis Arena ice.
Boy, was he busy on Sunday.
Tentacles were flying through the air prior to puck drop, especially during the national anthem. As Karen Newman belted out her final notes at The Joe, the crowd singing along with her, the octopi crashed onto the ice like grenades. And there was Sobotka to pick up the final one. A few twirls, a huge roar and Sobotka was gone.
(He’d make more than a few encores.)
Fortunately, Sobotka will be back next year at LCA. One has to believe the octopi will, too — pleas from PETA be damned.
One of the many things that made Joe Louis Arena unique – if not when it was built, then certainly as time wore on – was its steep seating arrangement. It made for great sight lines, of course, but also the feeling that the fans were directly on top of the players. Bowman felt that always gave the Red Wings an advantage.
“Anytime a rink is a little bit different than the others it seems to be an edge. It used to be smaller buildings — Buffalo, Boston, Chicago. Now they’re all pretty well the same ice surface, but the way the fans (are situated at The Joe) makes the visiting players feel crammed in. That’s the way you used to feel when you went to those other rinks,” Bowman said.
There will be no recreating that feeling anymore, not in the NHL at least. The Joe was the last of its kind.