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Little Caesars Arena will have everything the Red Wings need

Bigger dressing room, weight room, hydrotherapy and more storage among many amenities

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - The first thing the Red Wings will notice when they enter their new dressing room at Little Caesars Arena is how much more room they have.

The renovated space at Joe Louis Arena was about 5,900 square feet and the new digs are 25,000 square feet.

But unlike at the Joe, the players won't have to move their workouts into the dressing room as the new gym will have more than enough room.

For athletic trainer Piet Van Zant, life at the LCA should be a lot easier.

"Mr. Ilitch, Chris, has been tremendous with giving us the resources to get everything that we need to help our players," Van Zant said. "The job's going to be about the same but we have more tools at our services. "Obviously the gym's a lot bigger so even though that's not technically our space, it allows us to do a more comprehensive rehab. We have more space where we can do activations, where we can do running patterns, where we can do agility patterns. Here (at Joe Louis Arena) it's out in the hall and probably it will be a little more functional for us."

Van Zant said he and assistant athletic trainer Russ Baumann were able to give a lot of input into what they needed for their area, everything that the modern player expects to have.

"It's not necessarily medical but we have a sauna, steamer and another polar plunge for players to use in helping with recovery after practices and after games," Van Zant.

The hydrotherapy area is one of the things Van Zant is most excited about having in the new building.

In addition to a warm or thermal plunge, they also have a polar plunge.

"Instead of filling up a whirlpool every day with ice, the temperature's now regulated so we don't have to do that," Van Zant said. "We also have a therapy pool, which we never had before. It's roughly 12 by 14 feet long so it allows our players to do some activations, some rehab stuff when they're injured and can't bear weight. We have a cryotherapy chamber, which is roughly 155 degrees below zero for recovery and for some treatments."

Not having to find enough ice every day will be a major relief for Van Zant and Baumann.

"In the fall and in the spring, typically we would empty out our ice machine every day," Van Zant said. "Because of the warmer temperatures outside, the water comes in a little bit warmer so we had to get it from other ice makers in the building to kind of keep up with the process. The longer that we went in the spring, typically the harder that was. So to have a unit where we can just come in and check the water chemicals and make sure that it's clean, as opposed to having to fill and dump and clean tanks on a daily basis, that'll be nice.

"Obviously with the underwater treadmill, we also have the ability with the camera system to look at how the athlete is moving, squatting, running, jogging underwater. So it gives us an ability to look at a little bit of the mechanics."

In addition to more resources for the trainers, there will also be improved medical facilities on site for the team doctors and dentists.

"We now have a physician's office, we have an exam room for the physicians and we have our fully functional x-ray instead of a portable unit," Van Zant said. "That's a tremendous upgrade for us. It's not a Fluoroscan, it's a full digital x-ray unit that any of our doctors can plug into the server and look at old images and current images. So we have a database for all the past players and the current players."

The doctors will also have a full workstation to be able to review images on the computer or write notes.

"It's going to give us a new dental chair, all those things that we haven't had before that allow for suturing of the athletes or dental work, casting and stuff from Dr. (Doug) Plagens," Van Zant said. "It's going to be beneficial for everybody, for sure."

Van Zant and Baumann will each have his own office instead of having to share and those offices are going to have a lot more room and some nice amenities for people who work extremely long hours, especially on game day.

"We have some soft seating in our offices that they tell us that they'll possibly be able to flip down into a little recliner so if we have a few minutes in the afternoon between pregame skate and the game to close our eyes, we have that ability," Van Zant said. "Some days we get in pretty late and then we're right back playing a game, so that'll be nice. From our sense, the treatment of the players isn't going to change a whole lot other than having more tools to allow us to work with them."

Another major benefit for everyone will be a lot more storage space.

No one is looking more forward to that than equipment manager Paul Boyer, who was busy Monday night moving two large truckloads into his area at Little Caesars Arena.

"My area is contained and (at Joe Louis) I had to go up to the fifth floor, I had to go down the hall, I had things over here, in my room, we were using cabinets in (the changing room)," Boyer said. "Everything was just everywhere. Now I've got pre-fab storage that you crank a handle and they all kind of collapse into each other. It's very organized. Everything's in a bin. nothing's loose on a shelf anymore. It's all put together. It's all put together by player or put together by player bags, everything is labeled. You can look on a shelf and know exactly where it is. Everything's got its own spot."

Boyer and assistant equipment managers John Remedies and Brady Munger will have a much bigger, more modern laundry room.

"Capacity for that has tripled," Boyer said. "We went from one washer to three washers, two dryers to four dryers. Getting postgame laundry done will take half the time now than it would before. We can throw jerseys, socks, towels, you can get everything done. If a team stays overnight, you can get their stuff done and get it back to them really quick. It's a little more efficient. We're where we should be at in 2017. It's what the new buildings have. It's just the way that sports teams are run now, that's just how it goes."

Life will also be a lot easier for Boyer and his staff when there are Pistons games or concerts at Little Caesars Arena because the Wings will have their own practice facility on site.

"I don't have to pack up gear and go to (University) Liggett," Boyer said. "I'll see Liggett because I live in Grosse Pointe and the guys at Liggett are going to miss us but I don't have to take a whole team over for a 45-minute skate. I don't have to do an eight-hour job for a 45-minute skate. We'll just go right out the back door."

When the team goes on road trips, that process will also be simplified as it's a very short distance from the equipment and laundry area to a special loading dock.

Instead of having the equipment truck pull up in the hallway outside the dressing room and having to wheel everything onto a ramp and then raise it up to the truck, everything can be wheeled directly onto or off of the truck.

"If I'm coming back off a road trip, I still have to unpack the gear," Boyer said. "I won't have to wheel all the trunks up and down a lift one at a time, I can push two at a time off and get them to where they've got to go because the medical room and the equipment room, all the trunks are placed near the back. So things like that will make it a little more efficient."

In the nearly 38 years since Joe Louis Arena opened, things have changed considerably for modern players.

"It's not that we wouldn't do it (at the Joe), we're limited," Boyer said. "Our building is limited. The game outgrew the building and it happened here, it happened in Edmonton, it happened in Toronto. Now I look back and the first wave of new buildings, Chicago's renovated already, St. Louis has renovated, Boston's renovated. The first wave, Montreal renovated. They're on to renovation now. Those buildings are 15-20 years old."

A lot of the things that Boyer will now have are things the players might not notice but they are things that will help Boyer and his staff work more efficiently.

"From an equipment standpoint and a storage standpoint, they're not going to really see the benefits that come to me," Boyer said. "They'll see things on the training side, the weight room is going to help them. The medical room will help them, the kitchen with the chef will help. That's the things that they'll see. They won't know that I have a spacesaver storage unit and it'll help them in any way. It helps me stay organized. The things that I got that are new will be limited to what they think will help them.

"I know it'll help me help them and that's the key."

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