But Saturday’s raucous crowd wasn’t at The Joe for a Red Wings game. The 7,000-plus people in attendance were there for the first-ever Hockeytown 5K.
More than 6,000 runners and walkers—along with over 1,000 spectators and volunteers—representing 46 states and four Canadian provinces lined the streets as early as 6 a.m. for the race up Atwater Street to St. Aubin Street and along the Detroit RiverWalk, finishing at center ice inside Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s electric out here,” said Hockeytown 5K organizer Jim Biewer. “People came from all over the world for this run. For some of them, it will be their last opportunity to be a part of The Joe. This is a special day and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”
The event, which was designed in partnership with RunningFlat USA and was sponsored by Meijer and Powerade, was the product of over two years of planning. Race registration opened in June—with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the Detroit Red Wings Foundation—and it became an instant hit, selling out in less than three weeks.
|Over 6,000 Red Wings fans lined the streets surrounding Joe Louis Arena on Saturday morning for the first-ever Hockeytown 5K. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings) |
“I’m thrilled about the feedback we’ve gotten from the fans,” Biewer said. “Just the overall excitement has been incredible. I’ve heard from people saying this run pushed them to get back into shape and how pumped everyone was. Hearing stories like that makes all the planning that goes into an event like this worth it.”
Biewer and his team, along with race director Chris Uszynski and his crew at RunningFlat, worked around the clock Friday night to get everything ready for Saturday morning’s festivities. Biewer’s team battled a torrential rainstorm while preparing the course overnight, but by the time the crowd gathered at The Joe, the rain let up and it turned into a perfect race day.
And it was a perfect race day for the overall winner, Matt Loiselle, a 32-year-old Toronto resident who blazed through the 5K in just 14 minutes, 51 seconds.
Loiselle, a lifelong Red Wings fan who grew up in Windsor, Ontario, said he was ecstatic to be the first-ever winner of the Hockeytown 5K.
“The finish was amazing,” Loiselle said with a grin from ear to ear. “There’s nothing like it. Who can say they ran across Joe Louis Arena and won a race before? So it’s pretty cool to win the first one. I knew first prize was the team-signed jersey, and I wanted that sucker.”
Loiselle, who chose to be a Wings fan while growing up in Canada instead of pledging allegiance to the Toronto Maple Leafs, attempted to make the 2016 Canadian Olympic Track Team, but was held back by injuries. But the disappointment of not making the Olympics was made a little better by Saturday’s win.
|32-year-old Toronto resident Matt Loiselle won the first-ever Hockeytown 5K on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena with a time of 14 minutes, 51 seconds. (Photo by Michael Cheliak) |
“This is so awesome,” Loiselle said about winning the team-signed Red Wings jersey. “I have framed posters for every year the Wings won the Stanley Cup at The Joe, so this one’s going on the wall right next to them. It’s definitely the most unique prize I’ve ever won. It’s priceless.”
While Loiselle drove more than 200 miles from Toronto to participate in the Hockeytown 5K, the unquestioned longest commute for the race was made by 37-year-old Eugene Aman, who traveled all the way from Angola, Africa to participate in the event.
Aman, a diving operations manager for Oceaneering International, spends about seven months per year in Angola for work, but said he wouldn’t miss the inaugural Hockeytown 5K for the world.
“I wanted to run in this because I knew I would never get a chance to finish a race at center ice at The Joe ever again,” said Aman, who left Africa on Wednesday to make it to Detroit in time for the 5K. “That was pretty awesome. Finishing at center ice was the best part, and the atmosphere as everyone was coming into the arena was unbelievable. This is the best 5K I’ve ever been a part of.”
Aman, who resides in Morgan City, La. when he’s not in Africa, grew up a die-hard Red Wings fan in Lexington, Mich. Before Saturday, Aman hadn’t been to Joe Louis Arena in over 10 years, but said he relished the opportunity to come back to The Joe one last time and make another memory.
The Hockeytown 5K was the first of many memory-making events throughout the 2016-17 season to celebrate the Farewell Season at The Joe.
The season-long celebration will pay tribute to the venue’s illustrious 38-year history through championship and alumni celebrations, memorable giveaways, special entertainment performances and more.
“All season long, anytime fans step into The Joe, we want them to be able to relive the history and the memories,” Biewer said. “Every game this season will be unique. Each night, we’ll be memorializing those special nights that happened at The Joe. The Hockeytown 5K is just the beginning of what will be an amazing season to celebrate this historic building.”
|Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser greeted runners as they crossed the finish line at center ice during the Hockeytown 5K on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings) |
Following the race, the Red Wings hosted the 5K Festival, which included appearances from current and former Red Wings—including Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Steve Ott, Alex Delvecchio, Joe Kocur, Larry Murphy and Mickey Redmond, among others—for autograph signings and interactions.
Fans also had an opportunity to tour the locker room, play interactive games and take photos with the championship banners the Wings won while calling Joe Louis Arena home.
The only holdup of the event occurred around 9 a.m. as so many runners were entering The Joe who wanted to take their photo at center ice and take in the moment, it caused a pileup at the finish line. But Biewer said he and his crew will learn from this event, and they’re already hard at work, planning for next year’s Hockeytown 5K at Little Caesars Arena.
“My goal is open it up to over 10,000 runners,” Biewer said. “I want next year to be one of the very first events at Little Caesars Arena to give fans the opportunity to run through the concourse and introduce people to the new arena. We’re so proud of how this inaugural race turned out, and we’re going make next year’s event bigger and better.”
To see the full photo gallery from the Hockeytown 5K, CLICK HERE.