Sunday, October 19, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 0 at Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT) - October 18, 2014

The 2014-15 NHL schedule is not conducive to my goal of seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road in every city by the end of 2016. I always look for trips where the Leafs will visit at least two rinks within driving distance in 2 or 3 days. Now that most of my remaining venues are in the Midwest though, this is quite a bit more difficult as Toronto is close enough that they almost never have a road trip to two proximate rinks. So I am forced to pick only single games this year and then hope for better luck next season. As I am also working right now, I am limited to weekend jaunts, which reduces my options choices even more. When the schedule came out in July, before I had found my job, I decided on the game in Detroit on Saturday, October 18, and Carolina and Columbus on weekdays in 2015. With the job, those last two are no longer on the schedule, so my Leafs road venue list will only increase by 1 this season, with Joe Louis Arena the lucky beneficiary.

Joe Louis Arena

A few days before I visited, there was an announcement that a city creditor had agreed to develop the riverfront area, a plan that would see JLA demolished in 2017. The Wings are already expecting to have a new arena open by then, so this was not big news, but I realized that this would likely be my last visit to the Joe (which is not saying much, I have only seen one other game there).

Located next to the Detroit River, Joe Louis Arena was opened in 1979 but seems like it is twice its age. When the Islanders move to Brooklyn next year, JLA will be the third oldest rink in the league behind Madison Square Garden and Rexall Place, and one of only two without a corporate name (MSG is the other). Without suites, there is only a single concourse and the upper bowl (200s) is still very close to the ice. There is no reason to sit in the lower level as the views from upstairs are excellent and quite a bit cheaper. Lower level tickets range from $110-220 while those up top go from $47-80, although there is variable pricing and the Leafs game was even costlier than this. There are specials though, including a $59 Fan Pack which includes 2 tickets, hot dogs, and soft drinks for $59 for select (in other words not select) games.

Sculptures of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio greet you as you enter through the Gordie Howe Gate. The arena looks small but can hold 20,027, second in the league behind the Bell Centre. Concourses are therefore very crowded and restroom lines can take an entire intermission to peter out. Aisle seats are advantageous so you can sneak out during a break in the action and save yourself 15 minutes of waiting during the intermission.

Get there early (gates open an hour before game time) and wander around, noting the historical touches that detail the history of this Original 6 franchise, including those recent Stanley Cup banners.

Food is bland but relatively cheap (a slice of Little Caesars is S4), with sandwiches the most intriguing option at $9. Still, I would eat before or after at Tommy's Bar and Grill (above), a bar just a few minutes away that has an incredible grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon for $5. The place is packed for the pregame, but more manageable afterwards as many fans need to make the trek back home to the suburbs. Ciccarelli's (owned by the famous agitator of the 80s and 90s) and The Anchor Bar are two more establishments nearby - note that Ciccarelli's is only open for events. Hockeytown Cafe, next to Comerica Park, offers free shuttles should you be staying up in that area, or you can take the PeopleMover elevated train at 75 cents per ride.

Of course, the famed octopus gets some love too. Not sure why he is so angry though, the Wings have been a perennial contender since the early 1990s.

Being an old barn, there are few amenities. There are no replays except of goals, and no stat boards or other information to pass the time during the commercial breaks. One thing I did appreciate was TVs in the concourse showing college hockey before the game. In general though, JLA is a very functional rink and the Red Wings don't bother putting on a show to entertain you, since the team is entertaining enough as it is. After the game, stick around because exiting the arena also takes a long time, with most fans using the main gate to return to the parking garage across the street.

All-in-all, Joe Louis Arena is where I would like to be a season ticket holder. A successful team, relatively convenient location with decent and affordable bars nearby, and a distinct lack of hype and noise. I hope the Red Wings maintain this atmosphere in their new arena, which I will be visiting as soon as it opens.

The Game

My friend Sharpy joined me for this trip and we splurged, getting seats three rows from the ice in the end that Toronto would attack twice. The teams had played the night before in Toronto with Detroit dominating in a 4-1 win. This time, Jonathan Bernier started for the Buds against Jonas Gustavsson, the ex-Leaf who is now backing up in Detroit. Gustavsson had been the goat in a couple of games that we had attended previously, and we hoped that would continue. Of course, you know it wouldn't.

The teams showed no signs of fatigue in a fast-paced first period that finished scoreless but had plenty of chances for both sides. The same can be said for the second and third periods too.  In other words, the game went to overtime knotted at naught. It may sound boring but it was quite an exciting tilt, especially as it became obvious that a single goal would likely win the game.

Unfortunately for Toronto, that goal came off the stick of Henrik Zetterberg with 9.9 seconds left in overtime as he came in to the zone unmarked and one-timed a pass from Niklas Kronwall (above). The puck hit the tip of Bernier's pad, then the post, and slid over the line for a goal. It happened right in front of us, but we didn't bother to stand up to see the celebration, glumly sitting there while everyone around us cheered. Oh well, at least the Leafs got a point.

Although the result was not favourable, this was a very enjoyable evening for 64 minutes and 50 seconds. l'd rather see a battle like this with back and forth action and quality goaltending than a 7-3 drubbing.


l have seen 9 periods of NHL hockey this season plus two overtimes and only six goals.

My Leafs on the Road record is now 9-11-3. I still have Phoenix, Winnipeg, Chicago, Minnesota, Carolina, Columbus, and St. Louis left to see in the hopes that the final tally will be above .500. With my other trips taking up various weekends this year, all those seven cities will have to be hit in the 2015-16 season. Hope the schedule helps.



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