Dear Joe Louis Arena,
It's hard to believe that this will be the last game I ever play on your ice surface.
And to think, when I was a kid growing up in Grosse Pointe Woods, all I ever wanted was to play a game at The Joe and to be a Detroit Red Wing. Let's make one thing clear: it's the honor of a lifetime to be a Columbus Blue Jacket and to wear this sweater, but six-year-old Zach saw your sheet of ice as the ultimate goal. It meant everything to lace up my skates and twirl on the same ice as all the greats to wear the winged wheel.
I'm only 19 years old now, and it feels so weird to be saying goodbye to you.
When we played hockey in the street or practiced in one of our local rinks, I wanted to be Nick Lidstrom. He's one of the biggest reasons why I chose to become a defenseman (I wasn't the best at the other positions, but still) and I wore No. 13 for most of my life and through college because I idolized Pavel Datsyuk. The allure and prestige of Joe Louis Arena is what motivated me as a kid, and I would've done anything to fulfill the dream of "one day, you could play at The Joe."
Luckily, I'm able to say that I did. I've played over 50 games at The Joe in my young life, both as a little guy and then in college and now in the NHL. My parents raised us 13 miles from downtown Detroit, and I was so fortunate to be part of youth programs and community organizations that helped bring our dreams to life.
I first played at The Joe when I was young. Like, really young. The Grosse Pointe Bulldogs were my squirt team when I was maybe nine years old, and we got the chance to play a game on the ice a few hours before the Red Wings played. There was nothing like it, and looking back on it now, it was so much better as a kid because I feel like I appreciated it more. I soaked up every second. I don't think I actually believed it was happening. When I got older and played there in college, I was so worried about preparing for the game and staying focused that I lost sight of those feelings and emotions from when I was a kid.
Make no mistake: we're coming to The Joe for two points on Tuesday night, but there's zero chance I won't be taking a few extra looks around the place. I mean, how could I not? I started playing hockey because I wanted to play at The Joe.
Everyone says it, and they're right: all you have to do is look up in the rafters or walk around the concourses to see how special the building is: decades of tradition, dozens of the game's all-time greatest players, and a large handful of Stanley Cup championships. The Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena embody what every kid who aspires to be a National Hockey League player wants or wanted. I know because I was one of those kids.
I'm not really a kid anymore, but for one night, I plan on being one in the building that gave me something to dream about.
So I wanted to make sure I said "thank you," Joe Louis Arena. Thank you for the memories and for housing the tradition, for representing a historic franchise and for helping a wide-eyed kid from suburban Detroit fall in love with hockey.
And if you can put in a word for me…I'd *really* like one of the chairs.