DETROIT – There weren’t many sustained cheers at the new Joe Louis Arena after it first opened in 1980. The Detroit Red Wings, the main tenant, were awful. Scotty Bowman changed all that eventually, but he was directly responsible for the loudest cheer the building absorbed that first year.
“I had the honor of coaching the (Wales Conference) at the NHL All-Star Game that year, because in those days the coach who won the Stanley Cup the year before automatically got to coach one of the all-star teams, and we won in Montreal in 1979,” Bowman told BSN Denver Friday night. “The coaches could fill out the rest of the team after the fan vote, and you had to take one player from every team.”
The player Bowman selected to represent the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers was a guy named Gordie Howe, otherwise known around these parts as “Mr. Hockey.”
“I took an unbelievable amount of flack for that, because Hartford that year had a guy named Blaine Stoughton who scored 50 goals,” Bowman said. “But I said, ‘I’m sorry, Gordie Howe is going to be there. It’s Detroit.'”
Howe, who spent the majority of his legendary career in Motown, had been somewhat estranged from the Red Wings and, consequently, the hockey fans of Detroit at the time. But, when he was announced to the crowd that day, the ovation lasted several minutes and it began the healing process between him and the Red Wings.
“I think that was a moment everyone who was there or saw it on TV will always remember,” Bowman said.
Joe Louis Arena will undergo demolition after this NHL season closes, which for the Red Wings will be immediately following Game No. 82 on the schedule. For the first time in 25 seasons, the Wings will miss the playoffs.
Bowman won three Stanley Cups as coach of the Red Wings (1997, 1998 and 2002), winning a Cup in his final game as a head coach, at “The Joe”, in ’02 against the Carolina Hurricanes. So, there were lots of other great memories here.
“We had a lot of success as a team, but what I’ll probably remember as much from my time working there was how it was a real family atmosphere in the building among all the people who worked there. It wasn’t just the players and coaches, but the whole staff who worked at the arena. I got to really know many of them. They felt like they were part of the team too, not just hired hands,” Bowman said. “It was a good place to work. The parking lot was right next to the office. You’d just park, walk in the door and make a quick left and you were sitting down.
Bowman will also well remember the double-overtime goal Steve Yzerman scored to beat St. Louis in Game 7 of a 1996 Western playoff series, but also a Game 7 loss at home to San Jose in 1994.
“That loss to San Jose was a real tough one,” he said.
Some of Bowman’s other great memories from The Joe came at the expense of Saturday’s opponent, the Colorado Avalanche. There was the March 26, 1997, game where revenge was exacted against Claude Lemieux, along with a Western Conference-clinching victory later that spring and a 7-0 Game 7 win in the 2002 Western Conference finals. There were some bad memories, too, courtesy of the Avs. Colorado clinched a 1999 Western semi-finals here in a Game 6, ending Detroit’s two-year Stanley Cup run. They also beat the Wings in 1996 and 2000 playoff series.
“All the games against Colorado, starting in the playoffs (in 1996) were memorable,” Bowman said. “The building was always that much more alive when Colorado came to town.”
Will Bowman shed a sentimental tear or two when the final Avs-Wings game at The Joe is played, or when the building meets the wrecking ball soon after?
“Time marches on,” Bowman said. “It was a good building, but it’s probably time for a new one.”
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