DETROIT – Dress and drive.
It’s a practice concept that has been an inconvenience to the Red Wings for decades.
But with the new Detroit Event Center and its adjacent practice rink set to open in time for the 2017-18 NHL season, the days of dressing in full hockey gear – at least from head to ankle – and driving to a community rink for practices are nearing an end.
“It will be convenient,” Red Wings center Riley Sheahan said. “Right now when events are going on at the Joe we have to go to Liggett or Taylor. It’s kind of a hassle and it’s a hassle for the equipment guys. I think it’s a hassle for everyone, so to have your own practice rink right beside your locker room will be helpful and really nice.”
For years, when events are scheduled at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings are forced from their home, leaving the NHL clubs to search for practice ice at community rinks in Detroit, Oak Park, Troy, Grosse Pointe Woods or Taylor.
It’s a huge burden for team personnel who work behind the scenes to get equipment and gear ready for practices and games.
This year, the Red Wings have held 11 total practices at University Liggett School in Grosse Pointe Woods and the Taylor Sportsplex on days when JLA ice hasn’t been available.
“We have emergencies here but somebody always forgets a glove or a shin pad or something stupid like that and you’re always running something out,” Wings equipment manager Paul Boyer said. “But it’s a lot easier than moving a whole team over to University Liggett School for a 30 minute skate.”
It also means Sheahan and Luke Glendening won’t have to be Good Samaritans on the side of the road in their hockey equipment.
“One time when we practiced at the City rink, around the corner, there was a snowstorm and Glennie and I had to get out and help a guy push his car out of the snow,” Sheahan said. “We were in our equipment and a few people honked their horns. … That was pretty funny.”
This week, ironworkers began construction on the roof of the Wings’ underground practice facility, placing structural steel in the southwest corner of the arena. By the end of the month, crane operators will have put 14 steel girders in place. Each of the 120-foot girders weighs nearly 60,000 pounds.
While the completion of the new arena and all of its amenities is about 17 months away, the players and equipment personnel are excited for the future.
The Red Wings will join the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils as the only franchises who will have convenience of adjacent practice rinks.
“We sometimes practice at Liggett but you don’t get the same practice experience,” Wings forward Dylan Larkin said. “They don’t have the same facilities that we have, so it would be nice to always be in one place. It will never be a distraction than of going somewhere else.”
The practice ice facility will also be home to the Little Caesars AAA hockey program, which was established by the Ilitch family in 1968. The amateur players will have their own locker rooms, a gym and shooting area, as well as a stand along kitchen and eating area, and a 28-seat lecture hall and four tutor rooms.
“It is a immense boost for the Little Caesars hockey club, as there will be more ice available than at the Joe,” said Darren Eliot, the program’s director. “Most pertinent is that the amenities for the hockey families will be state of the art for training, nutrition and education. Plus, there will be a dedicated family area for parents and siblings.”