Little Caesars Arena delivers with extra toppings

DETROIT—It’s not exactly finished, but the new home of the Detroit Red Wings seems spectacular.

The Maple Leafs paid their first visit to Little Caesars Arena on Friday night, for their last road exhibition game and first in the new digs about five kilometres from Joe Louis Arena. It got more than a passing grade.

“Pretty awesome, actually,” said Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. “We had a wish list of what we wanted in, and we didn’t get one ‘No.’ Everything you could dream of, we have here. It’s pretty cool to come in here every day and get ready for practices and games.

“(Training room), the gym is really nice — state of the art. Our pool area, treadmills and all the stuff for rehab purposes is first class. It’s a real upgrade for us.”

The lower bowl is reminiscent of the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens: vast and steep, a true home-ice advantage with the fans feeling like they’re crowding in on the players.

“It’s a beautiful arena, a lot of red,” said Leafs centre Auston Matthews.

The concourse at Little Caesars Arena is much wider than the former home of the Red Wings.
The concourse at Little Caesars Arena is much wider than the former home of the Red Wings.  (Paul Sancya / AP)  
Fans feel closer to the action at Little Caesars Arena, where the lower bowl is steep.
Fans feel closer to the action at Little Caesars Arena, where the lower bowl is steep.  (Paul Sancya / AP)  

The area off limits to the media looks like the Bell Centre as well, at least according to ex-Leafs winger P-A Parenteau — trying out with the Wings — who has played in both places.

“This is a long way from the Joe,” said Parenteau.

The arena opened Sept. 12 with a Kid Rock concert. The Pistons will also play out of there, putting all four of the city’s major sports team within a couple of blocks of each other — with the Tigers and Lions basically kitty-corners from the new rink.

The project heralded a new era of construction in downtown Detroit, or at least refurbishment of old buildings. Light-rail transit — the Q Line — has popped up on Woodward Ave. along with a number of bars and restaurants that didn’t exist a year ago.

“The nice thing is that it’s part of the city,” said Zetterberg. “It’s not one of those arenas that looks like a spaceship or something else. This is actually part of the architecture in the city and it sits pretty well.”

The arena’s showcase elements — displays of Stanley Cup wins, the windowed area where the coach addresses the media — are a bit like the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the adjacent practice ice echoes rinks in Columbus and New Jersey. That practice rink houses the Little Caesars minor hockey association, as well as the Stanley Cup banners from Joe Louis Arena.

The main concourse for fans is wide and bright, vastly different from the near window-less Joe. Other elements of the city’s and team’s rich history are also on display:

  • The sign from the old Olympia, the Wings’ home from 1927 to 1979, and statues of legends Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.
  • A 700-pound Red Wings logo made from car parts.
  • Interactive video displays inviting fans to relive a historic moment.
  • Manhole covers with players’ names on them — okay, that’s weird.

“Coaching the Detroit Red Wings is a special thing,” said Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Getting a chance to be the first coach in Little Caesars Arena is a special thing. I don’t take that lightly.

“What’s the best part? Boy, there are too many to talk about. It just blows you away, whether you’re in the dressing room, the locker-room complex. The theatre room for team meetings is second to none.

“But I’ve sat in seats all around the arena, just to check them out. The steepness of the bowls and the gondola makes it feel like it’s enclosed, and it’s great.”

The puck doesn’t have the same bounce off the boards, but the players will get used to that.

And it’s not finished. The plaza outside is fenced off, still dirt in parts. Inside, construction workers were still scurrying. Elevators seemed like unsure propositions. It has that new arena smell.

“It smells better than the Joe,” joked an arena employee, who was trying to offer helpful directions but wasn’t quite sure himself where anything was.

The Wings organization is proud. In a way, the rink stands as an homage to Mike Ilitch, their long-time owner who died in July.

“Certainly it was a vision for Mr. Ilitch, for many years, to have a beautiful arena, and at the same time he believed in the city of Detroit, the downtown,” said Wings GM Ken Holland. “We’re so very proud from an organizational standpoint, not only what the stadium has done for our fans, but for our city. Concerts. It’s drawn the Pistons downtown. It’s helped revitalize the downtown of Detroit.”

Source

NO COMMENTS