The Winged Wheel

The end of an era arrived in Detroit, Michigan and at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday April 9th 2017.  The home of the Detroit Red Wings had one final buzzer sound signaling the end of a 38 year residence and 25 straight playoff appearances.  The celebration was capped off with a final ceremony.
The names of those who have worn the Winged wheel over the years were called one last time by the public address announcer.  The only thing missing was hearing Budd Lynch call the names and hearing his voice echo through the arena just one last time.
Growing up as a Wings fan I can remember my first visit to Joe Louis Arena.  I was either in first or second grade (’93-94) and we lived in Lima, Ohio.  This was years before the city of Columbus would have the Blue Jackets.  I fell asleep at the game only to be woken by the Wings scoring a goal and that goal horn going off.  I jumped out of seat and was wide awake this time.  My dad I believe had to carry me to the car at the end of the game as it was past my bed time and we still had the drive home.  Except we parked over near what is now the Greektown Casino and it had snowed.
Over the years that followed that first trip, I began playing the game of roller hockey first in the summer and then in the winter.  This led to officiating and eventually playing ice hockey.  My passion for the game and the Winged wheel continued to grow.  The piece though that cemented it was a game on March 26th 1997 at Joe Louis Arena against the Colorado Avalanche.  Those in the hockey world know that date as it was the day that Darren McCarty of the Detroit Red Wings cemented his place in Red Wings history as he exacted revenge on Claude Lemieux for a hit the previous year on Kris Draper that left Draper with a busted jaw and more.
Just days after winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years, tragedy struck the Wings as there was an automobile accident that involved Vladimir Konstantiov, Viacheslav Fetsov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakamov.  Konstantiov would never play the game of hockey again and Mnatsakamov would never be the a masseur again.  I recall hearing about the crash for the first time at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lima, Ohio.  The following year the Wings went on and won the Stanley Cup, the first person to receive the cup handed to them by the captain Steve Yzerman was Vladimir Konstantiov. Every time I see Konstantiov wearing the Winged jersey there is a lump that forms in my throat.  As the Wings held the farewell ceremony, Konstantiov was part of it and he was wheeled out on to the ice with chants of “Vladdy Vladdy Vladdy” with a hockey stick in hand (good form as well) not only did a lump form in my throat but a tear in my eye.  McCarty taught me how to stand up for my friends and family but Konstantiov taught me to never give up and always move forward.  The road hasn’t been easy for either of these players as the hand they were dealt played out before them but I want to think that it is the family that is generated through hockey that helped carry them along the way.
McCarty and Konstantiov both symbolize traits that helped contribute to the person I am today.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention though Steve Yzerman as a driving force in these traits.  Yzerman played his entire career with the Wings, changed his role through his career and more, but no role was bigger then serving as the team captain for 19 years.  During that time he had injuries and I will never forget him playing on one knee in the playoffs or a quote in one of the papers that basically said something to the effect that the best thing for his knee or any ones knee at this point was to not be playing but there he was night after night.  Yzerman instilled dedication, discipline and loyalty.  Yzerman who is now the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning gave a speech at the farewell ceremony in true Yzerman fashion thanked everyone from the arena workers and fans up to the ownership.  As his speech concluded a chant of “Come Home Stevie” echoed through the arena as the fans long for him to return to the organization and lead us not on the ice as he did previously but lead us from a front office role.  I echo the statement of the fans in attendance that being of “Come Home Stevie” and say it is time for the captain to return.
The names of the Wings of my era were called out one last time.  Each of the names Osgood, McCarty, Chelios, Draper, Maltby, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Probert, Kocur, Larionov, Kozlov, Fetisov, Konstantiov, Vernon, Shanahan, Murphy and of course Steve Yzerman brought back many memories and will forever live on not only in the storied history of Joe Louis Arena but the history of Detroit Red Wings.
At the age of 30, I said my final farewell to Joe Louis Arena on December 27th 2016.  My dad and I piled into my 2012 Chevy Cruze and headed North on Interstate 75.  We passed the nursing home where my Great Grandpa and Grandma used to reside prior to their deaths and the many other places that marked a piece of our lives just as our final destination that night marked a place in our story.  We stopped at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy, MI and as we opened the door to the store we were greeted by the voice of legendary public address announcer Budd Lynch who said “Welcome to Hockeytown, I’m Budd Lynch.”  We parked once more at the same parking lot as our first game (this time though dad refused to carry me, mentioning something about you are 30 years old and about 180 pounds more than the first time), we took the “people mover” this time around Detroit, we stopped at Cheli’s Chili for a dog and beer.  We waited in the cold for the doors to open to Joe Louis Arena and filed in.  Once there we paid tribute to the “troughs” in the restroom now steel and no longer porcelain.  We took in the smell of Joe Louis Arena, the banners high atop the rafters, the sounds of the game and one last look at the Joe, the arena that started a life long affair with the game of hockey.  As we walked out for one final time from Joe Louis Arena, I gave the door a final pat as a sign of respect and I whispered Thank You, Joe.