For my return trip, I thought it might be fun to document the whole experience and give you, the reader, a first-hand glimpse into a gameday in Detroit.
The following is a running journal of all that happened from the bus ride to the arena to departing for Buffalo and everything in between.
Hope you enjoy.
5:10 p.m. – Waiting outside the bus, enjoying the rare 70-degree early November Detroit weather, a number of interesting characters walk by. One man wears a white top hat, white dress pants and uses a white cane to produce a distinctive strut as he saunters down the street. A few paces behind, a man with an eight-inch (roughly) braided beard and a woman shaking a tambourine jangle their way by. Detroit is maybe my favorite people-watching city in the NHL.
5:16 – Time to get on the bus for the short, 5-10 minute ride a few blocks away to Joe Louis Arena
5:24 – The bus makes a right-hand turn off Jefferson St. onto Steve Yzerman Drive. The Lightning GM and former Red Wing great is immortalized throughout Detroit but having the street the arena sits on named after him is probably the coolest.
5:29 – Yzerman is a prominent figure inside Joe Louis Arena too. In the press room, which doubles as the media meal room before games, there are 20 pictures on the wall highlighting Red Wing greats. Five of them feature Yzerman. Along the way to the dressing room, the Red Wings have tributes to all of their Stanley Cup championship teams as well as past NHL award winners painted on the walls. I count Yzerman’s name eight times. I also find Valtteri Filppula’s name listed with the 2007-08 Cup champions Lightning public relations director Brian Breseman spots Pat Verbeek listed under scouts for that season. Verbeek is now an assistant GM with the Lightning. Breseman also points out Jamie Pushor, a professional scout with the Bolts now, under the 96-97 Detroit team.
5:40 – Stepping out of the elevator onto the fourth floor, I walk past a mural of Joe Louis, the arena’s namesake, the Brown Bomber, on the way to the press box. During last year’s first round playoff series, I would quote (loosely) a line from the barbershop scene in Coming to America whenever I passed the painting.
“Joe Louis 137 years old when he fought Rocky Marciano.”
My workmates/friends/fellow Digital Underground members Michelle Gingras and Gabe Marte always laughed when I did it, probably because I would try to imitate the way Eddie Murphy yelled it in the movie.
I beat that joke into the ground during that Detroit series.
I can’t help but say it again in my head when I see the mural.
5:41 – Take a wrong turn and get lost looking for the press box. Joe Louis Arena is one of a handful of NHL rinks where the press box appears to be an afterthought, thrown in at the top of the stands but below the suite level, packed in tightly with the crowd. I forget you have to go into a stairwell and walk down a flight of stairs (most press boxes are typically at the top of the arena) and through a set of doors that leads to the stands and the path to the press box.
5:46 – Finally find my seat.
6:19 – I head back down to the media room for dinner. There’s a nice spread tonight: freshly carved roast beef, green beans, roasted potatoes, pasta salad, spinach and, to drink, an Arnold Palmer (my favorite). Certainly beats the meals provided during the playoff series, which I have a hard time recalling other than some type of mystery meat smothered in a brown sauce and more mystery meat in the form of an overcooked meatloaf.
6:48 – I decided to take the stairs up to the press box this time so I don’t get lost. By the top, I’m out of breath. It’s now I realize I haven’t exercised on this road trip and make a vow to run tomorrow morning in Buffalo, no matter how cold it might be. I’ll probably regret writing this in the morning when I sleep in instead of running.
7:00 – Ben Bishop leads the Lightning onto the ice for pregame warmups. Bishop will be making his 12th start of the season and is looking to end a personal three-game losing streak, although the consecutive defeats are through no fault of his own. In the three games, Bishop has given up just five goals combined.
7:14 – The Lightning play a game at the end of every warmup where most of the skaters set up around the blue paint in front of the backup goalie – in this case Andrei Vasilevskiy – and try to jab the puck into the net. It’s interesting to watch. Vasilevskiy holds strong, keeping the puck out for about five seconds before, as best I can tell, J.T. Brown slips the puck under the Russian to end the drill. After that, pregame warmups are a wrap.
7:23 – The press box in Carolina had an unlimited supply of Sour Patch Kids. I probably ate four full cups. Here at the Joe, stale popcorn is the only snack to be found.
I’ll get through this.
7:25 – A guy wearing a Minnesota North Stars jersey directly in front of me keeps looking my way. I can tell he wants to engage me in conversation.
I never know where this is going to go.
I make eye contact, and he says something inaudible.
I ask him to repeat himself and lean in closer. “Is pee tayy here tonight?” is what I think he says although I realize this makes zero sense.
Not wanting the man to have to repeat himself a third time, I just shake my head.
“I don’t know,” I say.
This answer seems to have satisfied him as he sits back down.
7:27 – Lightning assistant GM Pat Verbeek makes his way into the press box, and again the man in front turns toward us and yells out, “Pat!”
Verbeek looks his way, and the guy produces a hockey card with a sharpie. He wants an autograph, congratulates Verbeek on something (I can’t tell what…I think I need to get my hearing checked) and Verbeek obliges by scribbling his signature on the card.
Now I get it.
7:38 – Puck dropped. Game on.
7:45 – Jason Garrison blast from the point just misses the target. Garrison has been uber-aggressive offensively this season, a welcome sight with his canon for a shot. Coming into the game, he leads all Lightning blue liners with 28 shots.
7:51 -- Detroit will get the game's first power play as the Bolts are whistled for too many men on the ice with 11:34 to go in the 1st period.
7:53 – Coburn goes down face first on the ice to block a cross-crease pass. Otherwise, Detroit would have had a wide open look at a good portion of the net on the back post.
7:54 – Penalty killed. Lightning have killed 23 of 25 opponent power plays over last nine games. Not bad for a penalty kill that was dead last in the NHL a few games into the season.
7:55 – Now it’s Tampa Bay’s turn on the power play as Justin Abdelkader is caught tripping.
7:57 – A press box attendant hands out the box score from every game currently in progress. I’ve never seen this done before at any road venue, but it’s a nice touch.
7:59 – One-timer from a sharp angle in Stamkos’ wheel house hits the post and bounce away. This is a theme that will be repeated throughout the night.
8:03 – Valtteri Filppula called for interference with just over six minutes to go in the 1st period. Detroit back on the power play.
8:05 – Penalty killed. Tampa Bay’s penalty kill looking strong again tonight, 2-for-2 in the early going. That power play generated next to nothing for the Red Wings.
8:14 – A bit of a scramble in front of Bishop’s goal as the first period comes to a close. No score through the first 20 minutes. The Lightning continue an unfathomable streak this season where they’ve yet to hold a lead after the first period in any game.
That’s 14-straight contests.
8:17 – First period score sheet says the Lightning only have four blocked shots, but it feels like more. Bolts doing a fabulous job getting dirty on the ice, using their sticks, skates and all body parts to get in shooting lanes and prevent more pucks from reaching Ben Bishop. This bodes well not only for the rest of the game, but the remainder of the road trip.
8:28 – Navigating the narrow three-foot pathway between the wall and chairs in the Detroit press box can be a bit of a challenge. So much so that I decide not to try to maneuver all the way to the other end to use the bathroom because I already went back-and-forth three times before the game and don’t want to be that guy who never sits still and bumps into people and is just generally disruptive.
I feel like I will regret this decision in about 10 minutes.
8:32 – Second period begins.
8:33 – Nikita Kucherov with a dandy of a spin move to a behind-the-back pass from the slot to Alex Killorn on the back post. Killorn’s shot goes wide, but that one drew plenty of “aaaahhhs” from the crowd.
8:35 – I never know how to spell words that are not really words but sounds. Is it ahs? aahhs? ahhhhs? How many A’s and H’s do I use? Why do cucumbers taste better pickled? (Chappelle Show reference in case anybody’s wondering)
8:36 – Wrist shot from Riley Sheahan 2:02 into the second period beats Bishop glove side. Detroit scores the game’s first goal and leads 1-0. That’s a shot Bishop would probably like to have back.
8:44 – Steven Stamkos and Dylan Larkin get into an odd Greco-Roman wrestling match behind the action. Stoppage in play. Stamkos and Larkin get two minutes each for roughing. Four-on-four upcoming.
8:51 – Just to drive home the whole Yzerman is everywhere in Detroit point, I can spot six Yzerman jerseys in the stands.
And those are just from the section directly in front of me.
8:53 – Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off plays over the arena speakers during a timeout, and I’m reminded of how we could see the fireworks from the end of her show Saturday at Raymond James Stadium as we boarded the plane to for Carolina. Pretty cool sight, especially without having to, you know, actually attend a Taylor Swift concert.
9:03 – Brendan Smith tripped Alex Killorn, and Tampa Bay will get another power play with 5:10 to go in the 2nd period and trailing by a goal.
9:06 – Joakim Andersson put the puck out of play from his own D zone, and the Lightning will have 1:13 of a 5-on-3. Bolts have to score here if they want any chance of winning.
9:07 – Nikita Kucherov converts 21 seconds into the 5-on-3, putting a rebound into the open net. Stamkos absolutely drilled a slap shot off the iron to set up the score. Someone check the post for a dent. Stamkos and Johnson get the assists.
9:08 – Vladislav Namestnikov gets called for hooking right after the Lightning power play. Feels like a makeup call. Detroit with a chance to retake the lead.
9:11 – Bishop did most of the heavy lifting on that penalty kill, stopping a couple pretty good scoring chances for the Red Wings. Bolts now 3-for-3 on the PK tonight.
9:12 – End of second period: Tampa Bay and Detroit knotted 1-1 thanks to Nikita Kucherov’s power-play goal.
9:31 – Third period has started. Lightning are 2-1-2 this season when tied after two.
9:40 – Dylan Larkin puts Detroit back in front after Jimmy Howard nearly gifted a goal to the Lightning on the other end. Howard had trouble handling a bouncing puck, and Ondrej Palat was nearby to try and jam it home. Palat ended up in the back of the net. The puck, however, did not. Coming the other way, Larking drove down the right wing, dished to Justin Abdelkader, who gave it back to Larkin on the near post. Bishop would say later the puck snuck between his arm and body. “Frustrating,” he called it.
Big swing in momentum right there, and, more importantly, 2-1 Detroit.
9:45 – Tampa Bay will get a chance to level the score again on the power play as Landon Ferraro is whistled for interference with 12:49 to go in regulation.
9:46 – Kucherov drills the post. (Picking up on a theme?)
9:48 – Lightning power play setting up tons of chances but can't put one in the net. Now Alex Killorn hits the post. Ferraro out of the box. Killorn would say after the game the number of chances that deflected off the iron was aggravating.
“With posts, there’s nothing you can really do,” he said. “Some days they go in. Some days they don’t. You just hope they go in next time.”
9:58 – Time running out on the Lightning. Five minutes to go.
10:01 – Kucherov continuing to show his immense skill. Has a behind-the-back tip at the net that nearly beats Howard to the far post. Kid is special and playing a heck of a game tonight.
10:04 – What a setup by Victor Hedman from behind the goal to Valtteri Filppula in the slot. Howard is up to the challenge. Really entertaining last couple minutes of play. End-to-end action and chances galore for both teams.
10:05 – Two huge saves by Bishop on a Detroit 2-on-1 to keep it a one-goal deficit.
10:06 – Stralman post.
10:08 – Journey, Don’t Stop Believin’ on the speakers. Crowd is in full voice. They scream the South Detroit part. I’ve got to admit, I get a bit goosepimply when they do that. Not really sure why.
10:09 – One last push by Tampa Bay with the extra attacker, but Detroit holds on to win 2-1 behind a superb effort from Howard, who stopped 29 shots and has given up only two goals in two victories this season over the Lightning.
10:37 – Cooper remains positive after the game, says the opportunities were there tonight, but just one of those nights.
“We’ve just got to keep battling, work our way through it.”
Lightning players concur. No real panic in anyone’s voice, just disappointment at all of the missed chances.
“I think every team goes through this,” Kucherov says. “It’s happening to us right now.”
The Lightning are now 1-1-0 on the current road trip with two more games to go.
10:40 – The bus is scheduled to leave the arena at 10:45 I get there with five minutes to spare. Time to tweet a few post-game quotes before the bus pulls out.
11:30 – Wheels up. Plane in the air. I’m ready for sleep. Hope the weather in Buffalo is as nice as today in Detroit.