DETROIT - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman could not stop gushing about the Red Wings' new home, Little Caesars Arena.
Bettman knew what the Ilitch family had planned for Little Caesars Arena and the District Detroit and had even visited during construction but he was still overwhelmed with the finished product.
"I just love this arena," Bettman said. "It is incredible. We just spent the last two hours walking every inch of it. I sat in the very last row to see what the view is and every seat in the house is great. This arena, in addition to being state to the art, has every conceivable amenity, incredible use of technology and a remarkable tie to history and tradition and this great Original Six franchise. "When you think of the history of the Red Wings, actually started in Windsor Arena with the Cougars, and then there were really two arenas, the Olympia and the Joe. This arena is respectful of this magnificent history and in terms of the fan experience, it is as good as you get in a public facility."
Chris Ilitch, son of late owner Mike Ilitch and president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., took Bettman on a lengthy tour of the new arena before the first regular season game against the Minnesota Wild Thursday.
"I know this is a place Mike Ilitch would have been extraordinarily proud of," Bettman said. "It is just remarkable. What the district is doing for downtown Detroit is a marvel to behold and it's great to see. So, on behalf of the league I'm proud to see this arena, I'm excited to be here for the first regular season game of the Red Wings and I think the future of this city and this franchise are extraordinarily bright because of the vision, commitment, energy and resources of the Ilitch family."
Bettman noted that the Ilitches were the ones who moved to Detroit and stayed there when others moved out.
"The revitalization of Detroit wouldn't have happened without the commitment of the Ilitch family, what they were willing to do, from an emotional, energy and financial standpoint," Bettman said. "Everything they've done has been first class. We all miss Mike Ilitch, I said to Chris when walking around, it's terrible that he's not with us in any respect, but it would have been nice if he could have seen this come to fruition, through Chris told me he used to meet with his dad on a regular basis and his dad knew every detail of this arena and what you see here is a function of Mike."
Bettman said he always makes sure to sit in the very last row of every arena to see what the experience would be like for the fan sitting there.
"I'm going, this is a great seat and a great view," Bettman said. "The intimacy of this building is incredible because it's hard for me to believe there are 20,000 seats for hockey here but there are. Because it's tight."
Bettman mentioned the way the Wings have incorporated the team's venerable history into a state of the art building, like having the letters from the old Olympia Stadium decorating part of a wall.
"Again, when you see the brick work, you see the weaving of the history and tradition, when you go and see the interactive boards, which is new technology, there's the history of the Red Wings that you can go through on the boards," Bettman said. "You can look at the old teams and all of the great players that played here."
Joe Louis Arena held a lot of history, including four Stanley Cup championships, but there just wasn't room in that facility to have everything that Little Caesars Arena has for the players and for the fans.
"When you go to the locker room, from the players' standpoint, the facilities in the locker room, whether it's the weight room, the training room, the wet areas (hydrotherapy), even the lounge, everything's great," Bettman said. "But from a fan's standpoint, the amenities are great and I guess people are going to miss standing in line to go to the bathroom because there are lots of those. Obviously my tongue is in my cheek, but the fact of the matter is, every conceivable amenity, it's a great place to be and congregate, to come with friends, it's a great place for a community to get together. But the bowl's incredible. There isn't a bad seat in the house."
Once a city gets a new arena, it usually isn't long before the league holds a major event like an All-Star Game or draft there and Little Caesars Arena should be no different.
"It's coming," Bettman said. "It's a question of timing. I'd like to see the District finished, so that when you bring guests in from all over the world they can see what the entire vision was and how it's played out. So, whether that's two, three or four years, when all the construction is done, we will be here with league events, I have no doubt about that."