By: Will Burchfield
Amid the flying octopi, the famous alumni and the arena-wide sing-alongs on Sunday night at The Joe was 34-year-old Red Wings fan Andy Greene, who just so happens to be captain of the Devils.
Greene, a native of Trenton, Mich., came of age in the Little Caesars youth hockey program. He spent countless hours in that whitewashed, windowless arena along the Detroit riverfront as a youngster, a jersey always draped over his shoulders. Sometimes he was a fan. Sometimes, as if diving into his own storybook, he took the ice himself.
In the finale at The Joe, a stirring 4-1 victory for the Red Wings, Greene found himself in an interesting position: both re-acquainted with his past and severed from it.
“It was a pretty awesome atmosphere out there,” he said. “Unfortunately we were trying to ruin it for the fans there, but we didn’t do it. That’s the only disappointing part for us.”
Greene is far from the first Michigander to return to The Joe in enemy colors. And he’s been back numerous times himself. Still, his final homecoming was different. On a night that evoked ideals of family and community, Greene felt the power of the ties that bind.
“It was pretty cool to be able to play in the last game here,” he said. “Obviously growing up here as a kid, coming to games, to be here and to share in this experience was pretty special.”
Like so many hockey players from this area, Greene’s path felt forever intertwined with The Joe. After moving on from Trenton High School, where he won a state championship in 1998 and where his No. 8 was later retired, Greene played for four seasons at Miami University of Ohio. The CCHA Championships brought him home each year.
“I played a lot of games here,” said Green, reflecting on his amateur career. Then he paused and corrected himself: “I was fortunate enough to play a lot of games here.”
Born in 1982, Greene grew up with a Red Wings dynasty. Any inspiration he needed as a hockey player was right there in front of him. Of his seemingly handmade heroes, almost all of whom walked the red carpet on Sunday night, Greene wanted to be like two in particular.
“Obviously,” he said with a smile, “it was Steve Yzerman and Nick Lidstrom.”
Yzerman, who always had a flair for the dramatic at The Joe, made a surprise entrance on Sunday. With the fans resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t make it, that, hey, it was still a good turnout, The Captain emerged from the Red Wings tunnel just before game time and strolled to center ice to drop the first — well, last — puck. The building shook.
Greene lined up across from Henrik Zetterberg, his honor as Devils captain, as the hometown kid beneath his visitor’s jersey was jumping for joy.
“To be able to take the ceremonial face-off with Stevie Y dropping the puck was pretty sweet,” Greene said. “He was always a guy that I really looked up to as a Red Wing and as a captain, the way he carried himself and the way he played. He transformed his game to become a champion.”
As the final minutes ticked away on Sunday night, Greene once again found himself caught in between. The Devils were trying to mount a rally while their captain was trying to fend off the nostalgia. It was a blurring of identities, of loyalties, of Greene’s past and his present. He’d never look beyond his team, but he couldn’t help but look around.
This was it for The Joe.
“I didn’t really reflect on what it meant to the NHL, but what it meant to me personally and to the city and to the people that have grown up here and played here and supported the Red Wings,” he said.
It’s an elusive concept, but few could grasp it better.