Joe Louis Arena opened its doors on December 12, 1979; two months later, the Capitals made their first visit to the new building on the bank of the Detroit River. This weekend marks the 40th - and final - appearance for the Caps at this landmark of Detroit sports, as the Joe is set to be demolished at the end of the 2016-17 season.
For a look back at that first visit, and all of the games since, we turn to our resident historian and friend of the Rink Glenn Dreyfuss:
Detroit's Joe Louis Arena is one of just two NHL rinks - along with Madison Square Garden - not named for a corporate sponsor. Instead, it proudly retains its connection to the hometown boxing champion. But like an aging fighter, "The Joe" is getting knocked down at season's end. The Capitals' visit on Saturday will be their 40th and last.
Washington's first visit, way back on February 6, 1980, was the 13th game in the building's history. One night earlier, a record crowd of 21,002 paid tribute to another of Detroit's favorite sons, Gordie Howe, at the NHL All-Star game. Fewer than half that many saw birthday boy Bob Sirois forge a 2-2 deadlock for D.C. with an early third period goal.
Wings coach Bobby Kromm placed blame for his team's "lack of effort" on the lack of a morning skate; the Arena wasn't finished when it opened. "They won't let us in until 3:30 p.m. because the workmen stand around and watch us," fumed Kromm. "That's the problem with unions today!" Interestingly, before a 1987 Caps-Wings game at The Joe, Detroit took a voluntary 5:30 p.m. pregame skate, then pasted the Caps, 6-1. Could results have more to do with the quality of players - and coaches - than unions?
In the early '90's, the Murray brothers matched wits at The Joe (and Capital Centre): Bryan, G.M.-coach of the Wings, versus younger sibling Terry, Bryan's successor in Washington. "I get excited about coaching against him," said Terry. "Bryan was my mentor and I want to prove he taught me a few things." Tied 4-4, the Murray rubber match was decided in, of all places, Milwaukee, a 4-2 Caps (and Terry Murray) victory in 1993.
A 5-4 Wings win in 1991 was quite the homecoming. Four Caps - Al Iafrate, Kelly Miller, Kevin Hatcher and Todd Krygier - had Michigan roots. Too bad friends and family at The Joe saw the visitors give up four goals before the game was 14 minutes old. "It's always fun to come home and play," Iafrate said. "But I was on the ice for three of the first four goals. That's no fun." Iafrate did register a third period tally as a Caps comeback fell just short.
The Capitals fared better at The Joe than you might imagine, with Detroit holding an 18-15 regular season edge in wins, with six ties. Washington went 3-2 in overtime, 1-2 in shootouts.
As we prepare to bid farewell to the Red Wings venerable home, here’s a look at some highlights from the Caps’ history at Joe Louis Arena:
Highest Score: Wings 8-7, Apr. 1, 1983 Tom Rowe, a former Caps 31-goal scorer who had 11 points all season, racks up five points, including the game-winner with :31 left. In a 5 1/2 minute span late in the second period, the teams combine for six goals. Sacrificial netminders Al Jensen and Corrado Micalef are forced to play the entire game.
Lowest Score: Wings 1-0, Nov. 10, 2015 Former Red Wing - and Capital - Sergei Fedorov drops the ceremonial first puck. Then Alex Ovechkin drops 15 shots on goal, trying to break a tie with Federov for most NHL goals by a Russian-born player. No pucks dent Wings goalie Petr Mrazek on this night, but in the Detroit rematch eight days later, Evgeny Kuznetsov scores in overtime for a 2-1 Caps victory. Braden Holtby pitches a shutout over the final 57:57.
Indignant Caps Coaches
- Bryan Murray, not letting his team leave the locker room to start the 3rd period: "I just kept them in there. I thought I'd get their attention. The way they played was the worst I've had to put up with." (6-1 Wings, 12/16/87)
- Ron Wilson, with a nuanced analysis: "We had two God-awful, no-effort, didn't-bust-a-sweat power plays." (2-1 Wings, 4/1/01)
- Mike Gartner scores with 1:23 left to break a 2-2 tie (4-2 Caps, 1/8/85)
- In a move ahead of its time, coach Bryan Murray pulls his goalie with two minutes left; Gartner ties the score with :56 remaining (3-3 tie, 11/1/88)
- Jim Hrivnak worries when his warmup is mediocre, so of course he makes 41 saves, and John Druce scores in overtime; Bob Rouse jokes, "We can smile at the wives and we don't have to kick the dog" (3-2 Caps, 11/19/90)
- Michal Neuvirth stops 22 1st period shots, 42 for the game; Alex Ovechkin blasts the tying goal with seven seconds left (4-3 Wings, shootout, 1/31/14)
- Wings 2-1, Apr. 1, 2001 Better to laugh than cry, right? The Caps in overtime came one second from killing a four-minute Wings power play. This game rates both for goalie Craig Billington's amazing 40-save performance, and his good-natured postgame comments. On surrendering the OT winner: "It's Stevie Yzerman's building. I would hate to have all those fans go home disappointed." On both teams clinching playoff position: "There's a lot of clinching going on. I feel all warm and fuzzy."
- Wings 2-0, Jan. 11, 1998 In a prelude to the Stanley Cup Finals, Olaf Kolzig stood on his head (and shoulders, elbows, and eyelashes). "Olie was unbelievable. Unbelievable," raved Steve Konowalchuk. Kolzig made 37 saves, stopping 19 shots and four Detroit power plays in the 2nd period alone. Only Igor Larionov's third period rebound eluded him. Among the sellout crowd of 19,983, former Wings coach Johnny Wilson, who had divided loyalties; his nephew was Caps coach Ron Wilson.
- Capitals 4-1, Nov. 24, 2003 This game should be fondly remembered in both halves of the former Czechoslovakia, which split into two independent countries in 1993. Although the only NHL victory in the career of Rastislav Stana, he became the first Slovak goalie to win an NHL game. It wasn't a cheapie, either; Stana made 38 saves. "I think I was having the luck of the beginner," said Stana. Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang, both from the Czech Republic, each scored a goal and added two assists.
- Capitals 2-1, Jan. 28, 1987 Pete Peeters needed to be sharp; Washington didn't register a shot for the first nine minutes of the 1st period, and the first 11 minutes of the second period! As noted in the wire service game story, "Peters held off one Detroit rush after another." Said Pete, who ran his all-time record against Detroit to 12-0-1, "I knew when they were hitting me and I wasn't seeing them, that things were really going my way." Mike Gartner's 300th goal proved the game-winner.
- Capitals 2-1, Apr. 5, 2015 Braden Holtby will be hoping the new Detroit rink has better air conditioning. Three years earlier, Holtby overcame cramps caused by heat and humidity inside The Joe to register a 5-3 victory. On this springtime evening, one reporter called the conditions "sweltering." Afterward, Braden would be gulping coconut water to rehydrate. Champagne would have been appropriate, too (if not thirst-quenching); Holtby, starting a team-record 23rd straight game, made 35 saves to secure his 100th NHL victory.
And five of the best...
- Wings 4-3, Dec. 17, 2007 The first Caps game at The Joe in four years was also the first for the Russian Alexs, and they didn't disappoint. Semin scored with 1:34 left to force overtime; Ovechkin played 26 minutes, also scored, almost won the game in OT, and drew praise from Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "He loves hockey and that's a fantastic thing," Babcock said. "People like to watch people who love (playing) hockey. It reminds me of Pavel (Datsyuk). There's a stigma that Russian guys don't (love the game). Yet, both of them have a riot playing the game."
- Capitals 2-1, Jan. 22, 1991 Oh, the shenanigans! Detroit's Bob Probert high-sticks Dale Hunter, gets ejected. Later, Hunter high-sticks Rick Zombo, gets ejected. Up 1-0 with 6:45 left, starting a five minute power play, the Wings seem in control. Instead, they allow Calle Johansson a game-tying shorthanded goal with 2:12 to play. Detroit coach Bryan Murray, bitter? "We should have won the damn game on the power play. We gave them a point-blank chance. Even the Washington Capitals are going to score." Mike Ridley worsened Bryan's mood 3:08 into overtime, giving the Caps two OT wins in Detroit for the '90-'91 season.
- Capitals 4-3, Nov. 15, 2013 For a rare stretch, Joe Louis was home sour home, as the Caps (via shootout) sent Detroit to its seventh straight home loss. Third period goals by Alex Ovechkin and Michael Latta - his first in the NHL - rallied Washington from a 3-1 deficit. Ovechkin had tormented Wings goalie Jimmy Howard longer than most, starting with a hat trick at the 2003 World Junior Championships. Ovi had also scored on Howard in a 2011 game at The Joe, even though the goalie knew what was coming. "He's like a tank," Howard said. "I knew he was going to put it through (the defenseman's) legs. It was just ... he's that good."
- 7-7 Tie, Nov. 26, 1980 If a tie is like kissing your sister, the Capitals started the season with more sisters than a convent. The wackiest of these draws saw the Caps trailing 4-1 after two periods. By mutual consent, the final 20 minutes were defense-optional. The visitors erupted for six 3rd period goals, including two by Dennis Ververgaert in a 13-second span. Since they also surrendered three scores, Washington had to settle for the 9th tie in its first 21 games. Caps coach Gary Green joked, "I got a stiff neck from watching the red light go on at each end." The dizziest man at Joe Louis Arena had to be Wayne Maxner, in his first game as Detroit coach.
- Wings 5-4, Dec. 26, 1996 Sorry, Caps fans, Sergei Federov's five-goal performance has to be the highlight of the rivalry at The Joe. Federov, whose 5-spot equaled his October-November total, was surprisingly sanguine. "It was just one of those nights." Most fans have forgiven Sergei, given his heroics from 2007-09 in Washington. "That was fun times," Fedorov recalled. "A young Alex (Ovechkin), a young Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green." A year after the five-goal game, Detroit tried to trade Federov, when Sergei was a holdout. News reports said the Caps weren't interested!