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DUNLEAVY: In praise of the NHL's newest rink

by Dan Dunleavy @Dan_Dunleavy / Sabres.com

I am old school when it comes to my sports. I do not like instant replay under any circumstances. I prefer the sound of an organ played between whistles over blaring pop music that has no connection to the game. I would prefer to see players use wooden sticks, smaller pads and goalies go back to the gear worn in the 1970s to play the game as it was invented. 

I like walking hallways of a rink that smells and feels like hockey. I liked hockey before social media, and think the game had more characters in it without Twitter being necessary. 

I also know that what you can't do is fight change or - as some like to label it - progress. I get it. As one generation of fans moves along in the hockey or sports journey, a fresh new breed of fan grows up with the game being played in a much different light.

So I learn to adapt, I play along, and under my breath say to myself, "I still think the game would be better if…" 

One aspect of the game that has changed and even though I have begrudged the transition on many levels, we have seen some teams move to new digs/arenas/rinks over the years. I have generally referred to the majority of those rinks as "cookie cutter," meaning you could close your eyes, be led to the ice and until you see the logo at center ice you would have to pause to guess where you were. Same could be said for your view on your TV at home when you tune into our MSG Networks broadcast of Buffalo Sabres games - most rinks look the same and lack the character of buildings that have gone before. 

Each new rink has its own piece of new to it. They are shiny, there is more fan access to places that were once a romantic mystery to us all unless your dad knew someone who could get you behind the scenes. If you like to drink, there are plenty of splashy trendy named bars to quench your thirst for something other than hockey. Heck, I would even be found in some of these spots, again because it's what we do now at sports venues and especially in the shiny new ones!

So on our first trip to the new rink in Detroit, I was really hopeful this one would be different in some way. I wasn't sure what I wanted to see, but I had heard some wonderful things and had seen a lovely promotional video in preseason that did get my hopes up.

I loved Joe Louis Arena because it smelled like hockey. I would even get the feeling of some hockey ghosts walking with me in the building, when on the day of a morning skate I would tour every nook and cranny of the old gal, whom I knew would soon be vacated by the Red Wings.

The press box or broadcast location, if you will, was narrow with a wooden ledge all the way along. For me, it was best to stand while calling the game from the spot, but you could also prop yourself up on the high stool chair and then leap frog it as close to the ledge as possible so others could squeeze by you to their spot. The coolness of that was how close you would be at times and have to say, "Hello" to Red Wing greats, management or broadcasters you looked up to. 

But time never stops and on we go to the Little Caesars Arena. Rob Ray, Chris Ryndak of Sabres.com and Paul Hamilton were with me on this walk to the new home of the Wings back on Nov. 17.

It wasn't a long walk from our hotel, about 15-20 minutes. We really went old school on the walk over as well, thanks to Paul! We put our phones away and used Paul's handwritten directions on a piece of paper! 

Worked like a charm - for a while anyway. Once we found the location, the first glimpse told you we were in for something special. 

The only hiccup in the moment was getting into the building. We usually have to enter through a designated media entrance. Paul's directions, as gold as they were to this point, well, let us down. (It's OK, Paul!) 

We took a complete lap around the building before we wound up back where we first arrived and the necessary door to enter was right there.

Once inside, we made our way along the wide hallways down at ice level. The first thing I noticed was how big this place was. You got the sense that if you made a wrong turn at Albuquerque you would be a while finding your way back. "Heavens to Murgatroyd."

 

The walk from the large and well laid-out visitors' dressing room passes a glassed in bar/restaurant, where fans can snap pics as players walk on and off the ice. Down the white brick hallway, the players hang a left then a right and there it is - the white ice surrounded by all red seating. You are not at The Joe, but you are definitely in Detroit. 

The Wings locker room is as close to the original as you can get from its days at The Joe, while being new and modern and necessary for today's athletes and coaches. You still get the feeling of who has passed through the winning organization before as you talk with current Stanley Cup hopefuls.

Even the practice rink, attached to the new arena, is a well thought-out and very warm rink. The warmest smaller arena I have ever been in. 

The concourse is a wonder in its own way. Far from traditional, this feels like you are in a mall with a hockey rink on your left or right all the way around (depending on which direction you are walking).

Modern day nuances all around including a massive video screen that when you walk into frame, emits the sound of a crowd cheering. As you turn to look at to say "What is that about?" a Wings player or two skates into frame and poses for a picture with you. 

I don't know what young fan would not have found that cool walking around The Aud back in the day. 

The media gondola that hangs over more of the ice than most press box or broadcast locations around the league and also provides a great view of the giant video board. 

All lovely touches on a very well-designed building for the present day and future NHL fan who makes the trip to the Motor City.

I can't wait to get back, and that's not something I say when leaving most new rinks in the NHL these days. Well done, Detroit. I think late owner Mr. Mike Ilitch would be very proud and is looking down over every Wings game in a very lavish and well-deserved private box of his own upstairs.

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