Remembering Detroit

Us at the Joe Louis Arena.

Yesterday’s ‘Enrolmentgate’ (which led to a very entertaining 400 comments between the hockey rookies on Facebook) has been followed by the publication of a piece I wrote for the Detroit News (Now off line: SEE BELOW), explaining that my boys and I were personally responsible for the Red Wings’ now franchise-best ever home winning streak.

Believe it or not, the team has not lost a single game at the Joe Louis Arena since we left Detroit – and oh man, that was so long ago.

The response to the piece, reprinted at the end of this post, has been fantastic – and it hasn’t even been printed yet; this is just the online version. An out-pouring of enthusiasm and sympathy and humour from Detroit people and Wings fans, celebrating our trip and laughing at the story.

It took me right back to the warmth of the locals when we were in Detroit itself, in late October and early November last year. Starting with the taxi driver who picked us up from what is now Detroit’s main station (basically the equivalent of any old suburban station – because Detroit’s once-magnificent Grand Central Station is rotting away (the first picture of this still astonishing photo essay by two French photograhers), like so many other landmark buildings in that city. The driver laughed a wheezing laugh at these Australian hockey fans all wide-eyed as we drove past Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, and the Hockeytown Cafe, which is more or less the equivalent of a Hard Rock cafe exclusively for Wings fans. He started pointing out the landmarks, dropped us at the best door of the MotorCity Casino for all our copious amounts of luggage (Will and I had loaded up on hockey gear in Chicago, so we were groaning under the weight of everything) and arranged to pick us up at a crazy-early time in a few days, to get us safely to the airport – which is miles away, and which he did.

This was the kind of friendly, helpful, genuine engagement that shone through the entire stay. Sure, other cities were just as friendly; just as welcoming, but Detroit has an honesty and a no bullshit air that really adds something I loved.

Other taxi drivers yarned about the Wings’ lack of good fortune and scoring ability right then, and grilled us for our story. One drove us way out to 16 Mile (yes, 8 Mile x 2) to check out another hockey store, and waited, having an early lunch, so he could drive us back, rather than leave us marooned way way way out there.

Always, there was the common theme: “Why are you in Detroit?”

Everybody told us the city wasn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be; just don’t stand on a downtown corner counting your money, or flashing expensive technology. So, be a smart tourist, like you would be in any other city, in other words. And mostly they were right. There were a few moments where we were approached by vagrants or found ourselves on worryingly deserted downtown side streets, but nothing more nervous than I’ve encountered in other cities, including Melbourne.

Comerica Park tigers lurk

I loved Comerica Park, as a Richmond Tigers fan – my Tigers should SO copy the massive tigers that hulk over the grandstands, scoreboard and entrance of that stadium. Your heart beats fast just looking at them.

And Will and I wandered past the Fox Theatre and into the Hockeytown Cafe. Again, there was no need for us to be remarkable, or given any special treatment, as we sat and ate the world’s biggest plate of nachos, but people were watching. Tourists in town. And saw the way we were gazing in wonder at old sepia photos of Stanley Cup-winning Wings teams; players with names like Honey Walker, Ebbie Goodfellow, Art Giloux, Wilf Starr, Gunzo Humeniuk (the name behind Gunzo hockey stores in Chicago), Lefty Wilson and Enio Sclisizzi.

Our waitress, smiling, said to follow her and took us upstairs to a private room decorated in the really great Wings stuff, where functions are held after Stanley Cup wins and the like. She left us there to enjoy it and we did. Photos of Wings teams with the Cup, players with no teeth, grinning like idiots with the silverware, and a magnificent photo of hats and streamers and objects raining onto the ice of the Joe Louis Arena, post victory. The carpet was inset with the famous winged wheel. We grinned like idiots as well, albeit with more teeth.

The Hockeytown Cafe’s awesome photo.

And so it went. Phil Pierce, an executive with the actual Red Wings organisation, took time out of his crazy-busy schedule on a game day to show us around the Joe, give us souvenirs, to let us watch the warm-ups from the Zamboni race, to explain that the practice nets for the warm-ups are the actual goals from Stanley Cup victories. I gently touched the goals that were on the ice when the Wings won in 2008, the year I fell for the team in a big way.

I haven’t even got to the reaction of those around us in the stands, who were so inclusive and generous. So much enthusiasm and support for these random Australian hockey fans, a long way from home.

Why am I writing this now, instead of last November when I got home? Probably just because the Detroit News piece has brought it all back, and it’s 100 degrees F outside my office most days this week, and close to freezing in Detroit (in fact, snow is falling, according to an email I received today from Jonathon, a guy we bonded with at our final game at the Joe, who keeps in touch).

I was full of the whole trip back then, of all our destinations and adventures – and man, Will, Mack and I had adventures. But now, months later, Detroit has stayed with me and I feel the pull of that city and its people as strongly as ever.

I’m very glad I wrote that feature and that the Detroit News ran it. It’s been nice to wave hello and to celebrate this incredible Wings run with the people of Motown. Long may that city shine and even rise again.

 

THE DETROIT NEWS ARTICLE (Now off line)

Wednesday, January 18

(Tuesday, Detroit time)

Just call me Mr Streak …

By Nick Place

Melbourne, Australia

Red Wings fans marvelling at the astonishing, historic home winning streak currently being enjoyed by their team are probably wondering who to thank. Jimmy? Lids? Pav? Babcock?

Well, no. Actually, you have to thank me.

You’re welcome. But I should probably explain.

As the Wings set the home streak record today against the Sabres, I was unable to ignore the fact that every one of those wins has come since my two sons and I left Detroit.

Seriously. Since the day that we left Detroit.

But it’s worse than that. You see, I live in Melbourne, Australia. Almost exactly half a world away; about as close to Antarctica as Detroit is to the Arctic. Right now, we’re enduring 100 degree-plus days in the height of summer, as Detroit shivers through winter. In other words, I am a long way from Motor City.

Which is great for Detroit because when my sons and I travelled to Hockeytown to achieve a life-list ambition of watching our beloved Red Wings in action, the team went straight to Hell.

Don’t believe me? Get this. Our first ever Wings game was on Saturday, October 22, in Washington against the Caps. We’d been in America for a month, on a trip of a lifetime that was carefully orchestrated to ensure we hit Washington at the same time as that game.

Reading this in America’s hockey homeland, you probably can’t imagine what it’s like being a Wings fan half a world away. For the small but passionate hockey community here in Australia, seeing an actual NHL game live is a distant dream, so picture our excitement as we made our way into the Verizon Centre, surprised by how many other Wings fans were also in the capital. I’d paid a fortune for decent seats, wanting to make our Wings debut memorable. The Wings were 6-0 coming into the game and the Capitals were 7-0. We were there to salute Nick Lidstrom’s milestone 1500th regular season game. Everything was perfect.

Until the Capitals beat us, 7-1.

Hey ho. We travelled to Detroit for an even bigger life-highlight: our first visit to the Joe Louis Arena, as the Sharks skated onto the ice on October 28. I met Gordie Howe, which had me floating, and we drank in being among the Wings family of fans, at the historic Joe, having walked the decaying but magnificent beauty of Detroit downtown.

And lost, 4-2.

Then read about the Wings failing to even score in losing 1-0 to the Wild away, and then we were back at the Joe for that OT daylight robbery against the Wild on October 29.

We had one more game to see before we had to fly back around the globe to the real world. The Flames at the Joe. By now the media was obsessed by the Red Wings’ complete inability to score more than one goal per game. Zee, Pav, everybody in attack was not so much off the boil as frozen. Jimmy was being heroic but didn’t have enough goals stacking at the other end to ward off the losses.

I was resplendent in my new Lidstrom jersey, Will was now in Bert’s #44 and Macklin, my 16-year-old, had celebrated Nyquist’s Wings debut by having his jersey made up – surely the only Nyquist-flavoured winged wheel going around in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Red Wings organization generously acknowledged our trek by giving us a tour of the Joe, watching the warm-ups from the zamboni race, and we sat right on the glass for the Calgary game.

And lost 4-1; the worst Wings performance of our trip.

The good news for all of you is that we finally had to leave. We flew to LA for a connecting flight, just as the Ducks passed us in the air, and got belted at the Joe, 5-0, the day after we’d left town.

Which, of course, was the start of The Streak, including an avalanche of goals, outscoring opponents 68-21 at the Joe, including today’s game, since being pathologically unable to hit the back of the net the entire time we were in residence. Commentators now get all nostalgic about the October days when the Wings couldn’t score. I laugh bitterly.

But you know what? The good news is that despite the remorseless scoreboards, my boys and I had the time of our lives in Detroit and at the Joe. The welcome of the Wings fans, who universally embraced three Australian wannabe hockey players from Down Under (yes, we play – that’s another story) plus the warmth of the Wings staff, and the wider people of Detroit was unforgettable. Hockeytown rocks.

All the losses? They just mean I still have to see a Wings win at the Joe, which means I’m going to have to find my way to Midwest winter at least one more time.

I promise it won’t be during the 2012 play-offs. I want us to win the Cup as well.

Nick Place is an Australian author, former sports writer, mid-40s hockey rookie and passionate Wings fan. (nickdoeshockey.com)

 

Comments

  1. Chris powell says:

    Hey Nick,

    I just read your piece on the Detroit News web site and followed the link to your blog. Funnily enough, even though I have been a Red Wings fan since the early 1980s, and even though I grew up not too far from Detroit in a small Canadian town, I didn’t see my first Wings game until the same weekend you did. I was at the Oct, 21 game against Columbus, which the Wings won 5-2. I didn’t realize that the win came at your expense. I must admit to being unperturbed by the fact the Wings lost their next six, since, hey, at least they won the game I was at. So, my sincere apologies.

  2. I read your article in the Detroit News today, how fantastic! I have been a Wings fan for over 40 years, and that was one of the greatest stories on a Wings fan I have ever read. Thank you. Bob Hutcheson

  3. Jonathan Styles says:

    Nick,

    Awesome article!! I was sitting in Secret Stylist in Port Melbourne where I get my hair cut and stumbled into your article on my Blackberry. I was born and raised in Detroit (of course, die-hard Wings fan) so though I’ve been here for 19 months and before that lived in Boston, I still read the Detroit News online. Even better, I go there because the person who cuts my hair, Lynda, is an Aussie who loves hockey. She “selected” the Canucks … poor choice but great person none-the-less. As you know, in a place like Detroit, one does not “choose” a team, one is born into a team. So glad you had a memorable trip. I’m headed back to my home office in Boston this July. Next trip to the US, make sure to stop by when the Wings are in town and we’ll go to the Garden to support them together. You’ll love Boston and the Bruins fan, old school, just like Detroit.

    Take care and Go Wings!!
    Jonathan Styles

    • How funny that you were in Port Melbourne to read it. It’s a shame you’re leaving town; we could have hit the Icehouse for a skate. Watching a game at the Garden sounds fun. Boston remains on my to-do list. Say hi to Spenser and Hawk.

  4. Aw Nick….you’re making me homesick for good ol’ Detroit!! I really enjoyed your article and am glad I followed the link over to your blog. I’m just happy to find out that my Husband and I aren’t the only Wings fans down here in Oz!!

  5. Jim McKechnie says:

    Nick, Thank you for the awsome article in the Detroit News! Its great to see that others around the world are willing to come see Detroit for themselves and see that its not all bad (sure we have problems like any other big city) but that Detroit has much more to offer. My Grandfather and all my uncles were die hard wings fans and I grew up on them! Had the pleasure of watching Howe, Lindsey, Delvecchio, and the others as a kid (Olympia Stadium) and still enjoy 10-15 games a season at the ‘Joe’. You should check out the Detroit News Photo archives that contain so many photos of Detroit past and present including many of the old Olympia Stadium. You and those from “down under” are welcome to Detroit any time, thanks agian for your support of our beloved Red Wings, and your support of Detroit!
    Go wings!
    Jim McKechnie

  6. Todd Fencil says:

    What a great article Nick! It’s great to hear the reach of the Red Wings makes it all the way down under. Too bad they couldn’t pull out a win for you and your boys while you were here in Michigan, but, that just means you get to come back again! Wings games are always circled on the calendar here at our house and usually, my wife, daughter, and son will sit down to watch them donning our gear. None of us play hockey, but we are passionate, sometimes borderline fanatical, fans! It’s the only sport I can get my wife to watch. Well, have a great Summer down under and hope to have you back here in Michigan sooner rather than later. Go Wings!

  7. Nick, loved the Detroit News article and your hockey blog even more (its on my fav list now, so keep the blog going!). I’m a third generation Wing fan, (I was also at the OT Wild game with my 82 year old father), hockey is a way of life here in Michigan. I can’t help smiling knowing you enjoy the Winged Wheel half-way around the world.
    It’s an expensive and I’m sure very difficult journey to make it back to Hockeytown, but the Winter Classic looks to be locked-in to the be played at the Big House in Ann Arbor next year. It would be great if you could some how make the journey back to be part of history. Watching the Wings play the Leafs anytime is fantastic but it will be truly fantastic in this setting.

    Also I’d like to say thank you for all your kind words in regards to my home town. Its the collection of people that truly measure a community, not the buildings that surround it….

    • Thanks, Bob.

      The buildings are pretty good, even if knocked around, but yeah, the people make the city.

      I am seriously contemplating a Winter Classic run.

      • The Winter Classic at either the Big House (ann arbor) or at comerica park would be truly epic! You get either being with 109,000 + fellow hockey fans, or a great outdoor game smack dab in downtown Detroit. Either or, can’t miss events. Would be great to have you visit and offer a recap for the news! We need to get the detroitnews on this!

      • LOL … I suspect the Detroit News budget doesn’t run to flying Australian bad luck charms to important Wings games, but I appreciate the idea. If the Classic gets locked in, I’ll seriously look at making it on my own steam 🙂

  8. Excellent article in the Detroit News this morning! Definitely one of the best stories about a Wings fan that I’ve read.
    Last year I had a chance to go to my first ever playoff game (Game 5 against the Coyotes) and – I’m ashamed to admit this – was hoping that the Wings would lose Game 4 so that I could experience a playoff game – even if it was only Round 1. Of course they won (6-3!) and so my quest for a playoff game continues. Too bad you weren’t at that game! (Just kidding, of course!)

  9. Nick,

    Just read the article as well. I have to agree with the other Bob, capital piece! Thank you for sharing your story and your passion of the most beautiful game on earth. There is nothing like hockey. And there is nothing like our Redwings! Gald you could make the trip.

    Go Wings Go!!

  10. Nick – After reading the Detroit News article, your website is now on my list of favorites. For many years, I worked downtown, but lived within a mile of the Hockeytown store on 16 mile – “way, way out there,” as you pointed out. My family and I regularly dined at Joe Kool’s next door to the store. Though I now live in Florida, I miss the old city. Glad you enjoyed your visit and I hope you had plenty of time to explore.

    • Hi Steve. Actually Melbourne is much more spread out than Detroit. I just hadn’t been out of downtown anywhere, apart from in Chicago, so it felt like a trek. I hope you get back to Hockeytown enough 🙂

      • Thanks for the reply. It’s very kind of you to take the time to respond to all of these comments. I’ll be checking your blog regularly in the future.

  11. Hi Nick,

    I just finished your article in the Detroit News. I have been a wings fan for as long as I can remember, I was born and raised in Detroit, but left in my twenties, along with about 1 million others. Detroit is still home, though and I will always love it. I never say I’m from Charlotte, Michigan when I’m asked, I say I’m from Detroit. It’s what we do.

    Your story amazed and intrigued me, which brought me to your website. I have bookmarked it in my favorites. I can’t really add anything that the others above me haven’t already touched on, except that EVERY town that I have been to (Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Baltimore, Philly, etc.) have fans just like us. Some are a little more exuberent than others, but not by much. I could easily move to any of these cities and find friends. You find through the years that most people are good people, and maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t watch the news.

    I will finish with this. Come back anytime, Nick. Bring the kids. You will always have a good time, and you will always be welcome(as long as your not wearing a maple leaf of blackhawk uniform!). I look forward to reading all of your blogs.

    Thank you

  12. Rick Nordstrom says:

    Hi Nick,

    I live in Clio (rhymes with Ohio), Michigan, and I just finished reading the piece in today’s News about your trip. I chuckled and felt I had to write because you and I seem to have been the victims of some great cosmic sports joke of the gods. You’re passionate about hockey and the Wings, while living in a place where hockey is a fringe sport, to put it charitably. Meanwhile, here I am, awash in a sea of red and white jerseys, and I find myself quite possibly the only AFL fan (not to mention Bulldogs member) in the Great Lakes State!

    At some point during season 2012, please go to the footy, eat a meat pie, tell a joke about a Collingwood supporter, and think of me…10,000 miles away and sitting at the Joe, wishing I were at the G!

    Rick Nordstrom,
    Clio, Michigan

    • Heya Rick. Thanks for writing; that is a mirror image. You’ve got a Sherrin with you though, right? Also, there is room for both. My passion for Richmond is lifelong and yet I have lots of room for Wings love.
      But yes, i’ll think of you next time at the G and the crowd rises, anticipating a speccie.

      Go Tigers and Wings.

  13. Jack Mefford says:

    Nick, great stuff. You are true Wings fan. Welcome to the family! One piece of advice, if you find yourself in the thralls of another losing streak whilst watching the Wings, I recommend changing your jersey. I have something like a 8 game live winning streak wearing my beloved #16 Konstantinov jersey. Speaking of the Vladinator, he likely predates your inauguration, but worth the Google and Youtube to see one of the all-time best Wings.

    • Hi Jack. I appreciate the superstitious thinking but it wasn’t the jerseys … For the first two games, we were in our trusty well-worn zetterberg, helm and dats jerseys. Then bought new ones at the Joe, and were therefore in shiny lids, bert and nyquist jerseys for the last two.

  14. Hi, Nick. Just a quick note to welcome a fellow Wings fan. Born and raised in NORTH Detroit, but have lived in NYC for the past 15 years. I can relate because after a few years of working in downtown Detroit in the mid-1990s and living and dying with the Wings in the playoffs, they started winning Stanley Cups right after I moved away. Fortunately I was able to get back and celebrate every one! I enjoy reading about your exploits as a hockey novice half a world away! Did you enjoy your time in New York? There are passionate hockey fans here, but football and baseball rule the roost. I sometimes cheer for the Rangers (as another Original Six team), but my heart will always be at the Joe. How cool was meeting Gordie Howe? Isn’t he the sweetest man? You’d never know that he was one mean SOB on the ice back in the day! 🙂 Go Wings!

  15. Nick,

    I read your article on the Detroit News website and really enjoyed it. Hopefully, next time you visit our great state, you will get to see a winner. We are enjoying them now though, except for the power play (16 for 41, yikes!). Anyhow, if you do make it back here again, you are more than welcome to come play with our group of washed up hockey-geeks. We play every Monday night on the Eastside (Grosse Pointe area) for a friendly pick-up game. Age range is 15-60, so we’d be happy to have you join us for a go at it. Thanks again for sharing your experience, and go Wings!

    Eric

    • Eric, I would adore to join the wash-ups for a game. Thank you for the offer. If I come back to Detroit, it’s going to be in winter – and a little later than Oct/Nov so we get to see the town in skating mode, so yeah, I’m in. Thanks again. Nicko

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: