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Red Wings fans say it in paint

Over 1,000 participate in Paint the Ice at The Joe

by Arthur J.Regner @arthurjregner /

DETROIT - On Wednesday afternoon and evening groups of 150 Red Wings fans in 30-minute intervals from 3:00 - 8:00 p.m. were able to paint a personal message on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.

For a donation to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, whose mission is to promote the growth of hockey, Paint the Ice, proved to be a gigantic success with over a thousand Wings fans taking advantage of being on the Joe Louis Arena ice for the last time.

"Paint the Ice was an opportunity we offered to our fans after hearing for months and months during the Farewell Season to the Joe festivities, they wanted another opportunity to come back to Joe Louis Arena and share memories that are this building," said Kevin Brown, the Red Wings Director of Community Relations and the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. "So the Detroit Red Wings Foundation decided to offer this opportunity for fans to make a donation to the cause and in return they get a chance to come out and leave some memories on the ice whether it's a fond farewell or thanks for the memories type of message."

Many fans took advantage of this rare opportunity as a diverse crowd took to the ice to deliver all kinds of final messages.

"We are seeing a variety of messages here on the ice whether it's a thank you for the memories or we had a high school student do his prom proposal today," Brown said. "Those types of messages are special to that individual and for us to be able to give that opportunity and chance to come out and share those messages is something we really cherish as an organization."

Noah Mendez, 18, a senior at Woodhaven High School, was in a bit of hot water when his extravagant plans to ask his girlfriend of three years, Savannah Viecelli, 17, also a senior at Woodhaven, to this year's homecoming dance blew up in smoke.

Though a peeved Viecelli still attended the dance with Mendez, he knew he needed to do something special for prom. A prom proposal on the ice at The Joe was the only way to go.

"I saw the advertisement on the Red Wings Instagram their proposal to paint the ice," Mendez said. "I immediately emailed the Detroit Red Wings Foundation. They were so good in helping me plan this and they already had this painted on the ice (the prom proposal) and I brought her down here and she had no idea the whole time."

Viecelli, a big Wings fan and huge supporter of Dylan Larkin, was caught completely off guard.

"I didn't even know I was coming to The Joe. He blindfolded me, he put me in the car and drove me here. I trusted him," Viecelli said with a laugh. "I thought he was taking me out to eat or something, I didn't know, I never would have suspected this; I didn't know it (Paint the Ice) was going on.

"I was so confused because it's the offseason and I'm like 'they don't have any games' and then I saw everyone in the Red Wings attire and I have on a pink top and my sandals on, but he figured I'd be all about it.

"It is so hard for him to surprise me; I figure out everything. So, for him to actually pull this off it's amazing. I was so shocked; I never would have expected it. I was so shocked it (prom proposal) was already on the ice because we've been at school all day. He did such an amazing job."

Mendez couldn't help himself, he knew Viecelli would be overjoyed with the prom proposal, but he thought he would make the afternoon too good to be true.

"She got angry because I told her we were meeting Dylan Larkin when we got into the parking lot and she got so mad," Mendez said, laughing.

But it didn't matter with or without Larkin, Viecelli said yes to Mendez's prom proposal and a lifetime memory was born.

"My father and I spent a lot of time here," Mendez said. "The best memories I have with my family and things like that are in this building so it's pretty cool to get to paint on the actual ice."

Family tradition was also the reason the Springer family from Clinton Township was painting the ice at The Joe on Wednesday.

Gabe Springer, his wife Faith and their four-year-old son, Nolan, were all smiles as Nolan painted and painted and painted.

When asked what he was painting, Nolan casually replied, "my name, a hockey stick, my last name and a Detroit Red Wings logo."

"We love the Red Wings and we love painting," said Faith Springer. "But Nolan, our son, is a really big fan. His first word was hockey. He started skating at 2."

From the way Nolan moved around the ice, hockey could be a big part of his life. He was only 9 months old when he spoke his first word, "hockey." 

"At nine months old, he came to his first Red Wings game and he's been to four or five games every year for the past three years," said Gabe Springer. "He'd rather watch the Playoffs this year than cartoons. So, we watch a lot of hockey.

"It's a great experience to bring him down here and have him come onto the ice for his first and only time and check it out from a different perspective.

"My father is a season ticket holder and passed the tradition on. I have been coming here for 25 years and I have never been on the ice. It's incredible really."

Henrik Zetterberg is Nolan's favorite player, but when he becomes a hockey player, he doesn't want to pattern his game after Detroit's captain.

"I want to play for the Detroit Red Wings, but I don't want to be a player, I want to be a goalie," Nolan said.

As much as the fans enjoyed painting on the ice, one longtime employee of The Joe became emotional when he decided to leave his own message on the ice.

"I just painted my two grandkids' names, Henry and Ruby, here (center ice) in green paint, which there is only a couple (messages in green paint)," said Joe Louis Arena operations manager Al Sobotka. "I figured it would be something to last them forever after all these years. He's (grandson Henry) been coming here since he was a baby. I think it is awesome.

"It's very fitting for the last season to let the people do this; quite a memory for everybody including myself. The chills running down me right now it's unbelievable."

"The goal of this event wasn't to raise a ton of money, instead it was our ability to open up the arena and give the fans an experience that is fan friendly, family friendly more importantly," said Brown. "Really give them something that doesn't cost a ton of money to attend, but in turn, is a unique experience they'll have and cherish for many years to come."

From the looks on the faces of the fans, mission accomplished. Paint the Ice could not have worked out or looked any better.

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