Memories of Covering the OHL at the Joe
The Farewell to the Joe game between the Windsor Spitfires and the Saginaw Spirit at Joe Louis Arena earlier this month – the last Ontario Hockey League game ever to be played at the historic riverfront rink in downtown Detroit – brought back a lot of fond memories.
And not all of these memories were from the goings-on on the ice.
I covered all three seasons for a Detroit area hockey publication when the OHL had a presence in the Motor City when the Detroit Jr. Red Wings (1992-1995) called the Joe home. Those three seasons where some of the most fun and memorable times of my entire hockey-writing career, which has currently spanned over three decades.
The Jr. Red Wings, coincidentally, were so aptly named as a result of a peace agreement of sorts between Wings owner Mike Ilitch and Peter Karmanos who owned the-then Hartford Whalers (now Carolina Hurricanes). The two mulch-millionaires had put aside there differences to allow for the distinctive name for Detroit’s OHL team. However, the deal for the Jr. Red Wings was contingent on the team playing out of the Joe and when the deal blew up the junior team was ceremoniously evicted from the Joe and moved to the less-than-ideal confines of the Oak Park Compuware Arena where the team was renamed the Whalers.
But I digress, back to memories of OHL games at the Joe Louis Arena.
The allure of covering the OHL at the Joe was due mainly to two factors. Firstly – the Jr. Red Wings were a powerhouse and it’s always more fun to cover a winning team than a losing team. The three guys who coached the team – Tom Webster, Paul Maurice and Peter Deboer – were personal friends of mine from their coaching or playing days with the Spitfires and they were all always good for their great quotes and insights.
Secondly, members of the media had superior amenities at their disposal than were available at most arenas in the OHL at that time. The media room, where pre-game meals were enjoyed, was the very same one that National Hockey League writers enjoyed when covering games at the Joe and meals were more than just standard press box fare such as pizza and french fries. Red Wing players and coaching staff and management were frequent visitors in the JLA press room when junior games were being played. Some of them were there to visit with their former junior teams while others were there on scouting purposes. It was always fun sharing a table with the likes of Steve Yzerrman, Bob Probert, Jimmy Devellano or Scotty Bowman and the key to good conversation was not letting these people know that you were intimidated or were in awe of being in their presence.
For myself personally, I will always have more junior hockey memories from the Joe Louis Arena than I have from attending and covering NHL games there. Hopefully one of the days an Ontario Hockey League team will relocate to Detroit and call the new Little Caesars Arena home.