DETROIT – Usually too fixated on game-day preparations to stop for small talk, Niklas Kronwall remembers making an exception as he strolled into Joe Louis Arena one day.
It was four years ago. The Red Wings had recently set off on what eventually would become a record-breaking 23-game winning streak on home ice.
As he’s done a hundred times throughout his 11 NHL seasons, Kronwall arrived at The Joe three hours before puck drop. He walked from the players’ entrance, through the Olympia Club and Manhattan Room toward the team’s dressing room.
But on this particular December afternoon, a thought of gratitude crossed Kronwall’s mind when he spotted Tom Wilson in the hallway.
“I had to thank him for the job the sales department had been doing,” recalled Kronwall, who thanked Olympia Entertainment’s president and CEO.
The encounter outside the JLA commissary was short, but just long enough for Kronwall to convey a heartfelt thank you from a gracious group of players.
On Wednesday, when the Red Wings host the Boston Bruins, they will celebrate 200 consecutive, energy-filled, sellout crowds at the 36-year-old arena.
Kronwall says the milestone is amazing.
“It just speaks volumes to this organization and it’s nothing that happens by chance,” he said. “I think it’s time to recognize the sales department and the job they’re doing, selling the game and making sure that people are aware. I think just the awareness of the Detroit Red Wings – it’s not just come here and watch a game – I think it’s more than that. It really is.”
Wilson couldn’t be more proud of the job that the marketing, ticket sales, and in-arena staffs have done the past five years by welcoming four million fans to The Joe. Though ultimately, he said, it comes down to fan loyalty and their undying support for the Original Six club.
“It’s a great accomplishment for us in every respect,” Wilson said. “We’ve been through lockout seasons, shortened seasons, and people continue to come. … The fact that people keep coming and buying, I think is a real tribute to the history of the organization as much as anything else.”
The energy inside The Joe was electric from the start of the 2011-12 season. It was something that was missing the previous season, and certainly, the players continue to feed off the zest of the home crowd.
“It’s almost like you’re having an extra guy out there sometimes,” Kronwall said. “You know firsthand by going into another building that’s really loud and it feels like the crowd is right on top of you. It definitely is harder to play.”
But when the current sellout streak started on Dec. 19, 2010, the local economy in southeastern Michigan wasn’t at its greatest. The lack of disposable income for many probably kept a lot of diehard fans at home.
“The economy was bad, sure, but at that time is when some of the older guys started dropping off,” Kronwall said. “I think there was a mixture there, but for whatever reason the organization, the sales department did a great job of bringing people in.”
The Wings’ roster was undergoing a transitional period during that time as guys like Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei departed.
There wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding the team, but that’s all changed now.
“The organization has been so spoiled with winning that when you’re not winning people aren’t as excited,” Kronwall said. “They’re kind of waiting for the playoffs, so to speak. I think these last couple of years there’s been way more energy in the building, even in the regular season.
“The atmosphere and the energy in the building is awesome. It really is the best place to play in the league.”