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Preds Reflect as Final Game at Joe Louis Arrives

Years After Initial Rivalry, Preds Say Goodbye to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit

by Thomas Willis @TomAWillis / NashvillePredators.com

Eighteen years to the day when they first skated at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Nashville Predators will play their final regular-season game at the long-standing home of the Red Wings.

While the rivalry has changed from what it once was: something of a younger brother trying to prove he's worthy of the family name - when the Predators were clawing to prove they belonged in the NHL only a few years removed from the 1998 Expansion Draft. A final spin on the ice at "the Joe" feels like the official closing of a chapter that's spanned Nashville's first 15 years in the League.

The opening years were not kind to the Predators at Joe Louis Arena. Their marks in the ledger were almost all of the same variety as a 1-10-3 record appeared, with the Preds lone victory coming in overtime. As P.K. Subban said on Wednesday after Preds practice, it can be hard to describe the trance that comes over a young player when he's first skating in the Joe; the plethora of championship banners and retired numbers hanging from the rafters have a way of catching the eye.

The 2016-17 Nashville Predators don't view Joe Louis Arena Arena in the same way their brethren did a decade ago. They're much more used to escaping Detroit with two points in tow than their predecessors were. Other teams have assumed the role of Nashville's most hated rivals and the constant comparison of Preds versus Wings has dissipated. Still, even though they aren't quick to mention Nashville's first-ever playoff game played in Detroit in 2004 or the back-to-back sweep at the Joe in 2006, ties to the team and the 37-year-old arena still come up naturally.

Roman Josi played his first NHL game at Joe Louis Arena. Pekka Rinne remembers winning Games Three and Four of the team's 2012 playoff series. Calle Jarnkrok is a former member of the Wings organization.

"I think Detroit is special because of the history they have, they've won so many Cups in that building, so many great players played there, so many great teams. It's definitely a special place and you can't help but notice when you're there," Josi said.

"I played my first NHL game in Detroit, so that was really special for me. I remember going into warmups and it really hit me, and I was thinking, 'this is going to be your first game in the NHL.' Being in the rink, seeing the other players. Then for the game you're nervous before the game, but you try to enjoy the moment."

While he never skated at the Joe as a member of the Red Wings, Jarnkrok, like countryman Filip Forsberg with the Washington Capitals, still feels a tie to the club that drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft. Seeing the Joe for the final time - barring a Preds and Wings 2017 Stanley Cup Final - feels like the end of a major section in his career.

"It was a great organization to enter the League with, and I know a couple of the guys that are on the team now. A lot of them played with me in Grand Rapids, so it's mostly about going to face them one last time there," Jarnkrok said. "It's cool when you're there and you see [Nicklas] Lidstrom and all those guys on the wall and [Steve] Yzerman… Growing up, I was a fan of all the Swedes that played in the NHL, and Detroit had a lot of them, so I ended up watching a lot of Detroit games with [Henrik] Zetterberg and Lidstrom and all those games."

After briefly mentioning the impressive sight of the rafters of Joe Louis Arena, Subban, unprompted, started to reflect on his first time at one of the pillars of the Detroit sporting world. And that's kind of the point of reflecting on the tradition and history of an old NHL rink like the Joe - regardless of your part in it, all the history added together is what makes saying goodbye so special.

"If it's your first time there you can catch yourself looking into the rafters a little longer than you're supposed to," Subban said. "It's a really cool building. I remember being there in junior, our organization got us a box, got us tickets at Joe Louis Arena to watch Detroit and the Ducks play.

"We know it's a special building, but for us the focus is on the task at hand and that's two points."

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