DETROIT -- This preseason, the Detroit Red Wings offered youth hockey teams throughout Metro Detroit the chance of a lifetime to enjoy a Red Wings game from a premium suite at Joe Louis Arena.
240 suite tickets worth more than $28,000 were donated and distributed between the Red Wings' four preseason games to 14 local youth organizations.
The suite ticket recipients included the Adrian Youth Hockey Association, East Side Youth Sports Foundation, Livonia Squirt Rangers, Port Huron Beavers, Northville Vipers, Novi Mini Mites, Little Caesars Farmington Hills Hockey, Jackson Hockey Association, Lansing Spartans Hockey Club, St. Mary's Hot Shots, Jack Adams Memorial Arena and the Clark Park Polar Bears, as well as representatives from the Red Wings' Little Wings Program.
In addition to watching the game from a suite, each group selected one member to participate in the pre-game high-five tunnel to greet players as they entered the ice, and each group took a post-game photo at center ice.
"In celebration of the Farewell Season at The Joe, the Detroit Red Wings were pleased to host youth hockey players and their coaches, from teams across Metro Detroit, for a special game experience at Joe Louis Arena," said Kevin Brown, Director of Community Relations & Detroit Red Wings Foundation. "Each guest received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view a Red Wings game from the Rehmann Suite Level, as well as step onto the iconic Joe Louis Arena ice one last time."
One of the first groups that got to see the Wings in action this season was the Adrian Youth Hockey Association which attended Detroit's preseason opener on Sept. 27 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Gregg Devito, the Adrian Youth Hockey Association's executive board president, accompanied 15 of his players to the game and said he was ecstatic his organization was chosen to receive the suite tickets.
"They're having an absolute blast," Devito said during the Wings' 4-2 win on Sept. 27. "Joe Louis Arena is a rare treasure in the NHL. It's a building that has a lot of atmosphere, even for a preseason game. Especially for some of our younger kids that have never experienced a suite, I know it's a really special night that they'll never forget.
"I think the Red Wings take a lot of pride in the work that they do in the community. So the fact that they've opened their doors to give organizations like ours this special treat is an awesome thing to do."
Devito, who coaches three of the six teams in the Adrian Youth Hockey Association, said his group was chosen to receive the suite tickets in part because of their participation in the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association's Try Hockey For Free Clinics, which have been supported by the Detroit Red Wings Foundation.
Devito has utilized the free hockey clinics to help build his program and said he has the Red Wings to thank, in part, for the success of the association.
"If you look at our organization, we're a prime example of how to use the Red Wings Foundation and the MAHA (clinics) to build your association," Devito said. "When I took over the AYHA five years ago, we only had 22 kids in the whole association. So the first four events we did, we had the Red Wings Foundation involved, and there were nearly 100 kids at each of those clinics. The end result is going from 22 kids to over 160 kids playing hockey in Adrian. Without the effort of the Red Wings Foundation, that wouldn't happen."
Two other teams that received preseason suite tickets were the Northville Vipers and the Novi Mini Mites, whose coach is also involved in Red Wings youth hockey initiatives.
James Kogut, who coaches both teams out of Novi Ice Arena, has had his players take part in the Mini Wings intermission scrimmages at Joe Louis Arena the past two seasons.
Kogut said that similar to the Detroit Red Wings Foundation, he's invested in his community and is committed to growing the sport of hockey the right way.
"We are focused on teaching the kids the right way to play hockey," Kogut said. "We focus on fundamentals and teamwork so as the kids grow, they will continue to improve and enjoy playing for years to come. I like to make sure the kids on my teams have fun with hockey, and I try to find fun ways for them to experience the game."
And Kogut couldn't have asked for a better way for his teams to experience hockey than how they did during the Red Wings' 6-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 2.
"I think it's great that the Wings are giving kids a chance to see the games in person," Kogut said. "A suite is a great place for the kids to hang out and watch a game that they love to play, themselves. My son was fascinated by the vantage point, comparing it to playing hockey on Xbox. The game had everything the kids wanted."
Kogut said one of the best things about the experience, for him, was being able to enjoy the suite during the Farewell Season at The Joe.
"Right now the kids don't recognize the history of this building since they are young," he said. "But like when Tiger Stadium closed, they will remember getting to go to the game and be on the same ice as (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Nicklas) Lidstrom and all the other great Wings."
Devito echoed Kogut's sentiment about the 38-year-old venue which will close after this season.
"Joe Louis Arena is a rare treasure in the NHL," Devito said. "It's probably the last building in the NHL that captures the essence of a building that's just alive with its natural environment. That's what makes this place special."
And while Devito was thrilled to receive the donated preseason tickets, the former American Hockey League broadcaster said he's anxiously excited to see how the Red Wings fare this regular season.
"The Eastern Conference is pretty stacked top to bottom," Devito said. "They've got a good core of young players that saw a tremendous amount of ice time last season. From a coaching perspective, I think they're doing the right thing bringing in some young talent. It'll be tough to get into the postseason in the Eastern Conference, but you never know. You get in and you see what happens."