I have many memories of time spent in Joe Louis Arena, and I am about to broadcast there for the last time - at least in the regular season.
"The Joe" opened midway through the 1979-80 National Hockey League season, so the Red Wings started the season in their old barn (which I loved) - Olympia.
Olympia had served as home to the NHL in Detroit since the fall of 1927. Particularly, those dominant Red Wings teams of the 1940s and 1950s won so many championships there. Hockey Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio and Terry Sawchuk began their careers there.
My first trip as a broadcaster into the Joe was with the Los Angeles Kings, who were scheduled into the fourth game there. It was Jan. 2, 1980. They were in such a haste to get into the building that the Red Wings played there four times in its first seven nights.
I was the color commentator for the Kings from 1978-81, working with Bob Miller (still going strong in Southern California!).
Six weeks later, I did my first NHL play-by-play on the road, joined by Kings Public Relations man John Wolf on a simulcast on KRLA Radio and KHJ Channel 9. Why? Because severe flooding in Los Angeles had confined Miller to his home in Woodland Hills! We broadcast that night from what is now the Home TV booth at Joe Louis - occupied for years by Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond.
My most memorable trip in with the Buffalo Sabres came on March 28, 1997 - two days after the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche had their huge brawl.
The Red Wings were still on edge after that - even Head Coach Scotty Bowman, who spoke with me the morning of our game: "They sent an inexperienced referee in for that, and they knew it was going to be a tough game!"
That night, the Sabres lost 2-1, but they were en route to a Northeast Division title that season. Of course, those Red Wings ended their 42-year title drought with the first of two consecutive Stanley Cup championships that postseason.
And that brings us to my Predators memories in the Joe. They don't begin pleasantly. As stated, the Red Wings had begun their run of titles, three of them in six seasons. Clearly, they were the benchmark for all NHL teams.
Playing the fifth game in franchise history, the Predators entered Joe Louis Arena as a group for the first time on Oct. 21, 1998. It was a close game going into the third period, but Detroit ultimately wore down Mike Dunham and the Preds with a 57-shot assault, and the final was 5-2.
As a matter of fact, it was quite some time before things got better. Nashville started out by going 0-5-1 there, then 1-10-3. The first win was unforgettable, and in overtime.
With the way things worked out, I guess it was fitting that when the Predators made the playoffs for the first time, their opponents would be the Red Wings, and you know who had home ice advantage:
They got off to a great start, and even tied the series at 2-2 before bowing out. That was part of the Predators maturation as a team.
Following the lockout, which cost the 2004-05 season, the Predators were fortified with the addition of Paul Kariya, among others.
As play resumed in the fall of 2005, a near tragedy unfolded before our eyes in the Joe just before Thanksgiving, on Nov. 21.
Jiri Fischer survived. He works in player development for the Red Wings today and plays in some alumni games. But we had no idea there would be a happy outcome that night. We waited about 45 minutes on the air for the disposition of the situation. Ultimately, the decision was made to suspend the game. The schedule was altered and the Predators played back-to-back games in Detroit the following January. They started the first game with a 1-0 lead (Greg Johnson's goal from November), but a full 60 minutes was put on the clock.
That would lead to one of the great moments in team history:
That Predators team would go on from there to a 106-point season, and then have a 110-pointer the next season.
There are other memories as well - especially the third-period comeback when Dan Hamhuis's shot from the right point was tipped in by Scott Walker in November of 2003.
I am sure that those - and probably a few more - will come back as the Predators play their last regular-season game there Friday. And if it isn't the last one? That means the Predators and Red Wings will be meeting in the Stanley Cup Final! Where do I sign up?