Did You Know The Red Wings Played A Full Season In Windsor?
Sunday afternoon NHL history was made, as twenty thousand fans shuffled their way up the stairs at Steve Yzerman Drive, and through the large doors into the Joe Louis Arena. Red Wings play by play announcer, Ken Kale, could be heard on repeat echoing out of the speakers informing everyone of the day’s opponent, as he has thousands of times before. This day, was a little different though; as the spring sunshine warmed the streets of Detroit, the hearts of fans warmed as well due to sight of Red Wings legends waltzing their way down the red carpet that guided them into The Joe. They were all there, of course, to celebrate the last game that would ever be played at The Joe Louis Arena.
The day was capped off with a four to one victory over the New Jersey Devils, with the last goal ever scored at The Joe coming from a man who hadn’t scored all season, Riley Sheahan.
Today, while the city of Detroit celebrates the history of their franchise, many are unaware The Detroit Red Wings got their start across the river in Windsor, Ontario. Okay, technically, they wouldn’t change their name to the “Red Wings” for another six years, but regardless, the inaugural season for Detroit’s NHL hockey team, was played in Windsor!
It was 1926, and the NHL had bought the rights to the WHL, a hockey league on verge of bankruptcy. The Victoria Cougars would be relocated to the growing metropolis of Detroit; the young city had more than tripled its population in the last two decades, and Henry Ford’s five dollar a day wages was keeping the city fat and happy – it was high time for an NHL team.
The problem was, the city had no hockey arena of any decent size. So, a deal was struck with their Canadian neighbors to allow The Detroit Cougars to play their first NHL season at the Border Cities Arena in Windsor, Ontario. The arena, still sitting to this day at Wyandotte and McDougal, would later to be known as The Windsor Arena, or more affectionately referred to as “The Barn”.
It’s an idea that sounds absurd by today’s standards; an NHL team with their home arena located in, not just another city, but another country. However, in 1927, times were different; heading over the border did not mean waiting in a customs line, declaring any goods purchased, providing proper identification, or any other security checks we may see today. Instead, this was a day and age when Ford Model Ts could be seen driving their way over the frozen river at will, no passport necessary.
Newspaper articles from that year chronicle the events – clippings can be found advertising the debut game for the team, or reporting on the three thousand seat expansion made to accommodate them.
November 18th, 1926, Windsorites, and visiting fans from Detroit gathered in their tweed suits and fedoras inside Border Cities Arena to watch the new team from Detroit take centre stage. In true 1920s fashion, smoke from pipes and cigarettes wafted through the air, as fans sat in their seats, which surely had cost them only pennies, while the team on the ice fought hard. The hard fight, was not enough, however. Detroit fell down two goals to none – they were shut out during their first “home game”.
By the end of the year, the Cougars finished with only twelve wins, and growing anxiousness for their new building, the Olympia Stadium, to be finished construction.
October 22nd, 1927, the team would play their first game in Detroit, and lose that one too. The Ottawa Senators took the game 2-1. Over time, though, the team would slowly play better, their name would change, their fan base would grow, and eventually, they would outgrow the fifteen thousand seat Olympia Stadium. In 1979, the Red Wings would move to their new riverfront home – Joe Louis Arena.
The first game at the Joe wasn’t much better than their first game at the Olympia, or in Windsor – it was a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues, and 20, 000 Detroit fans boo’d every time they heard the name of the arena spoken by the in house announcer.
You see, the city wasn’t a fan of the change; much like Detroit’s current attachment to the Joe, at the time they had a love affair with the Olympia. This was the place the franchise won their first Stanley Cup in 1936, every seat was close to the action, and the sound of pucks and slashing sticks echoed through the interior as if outfitted with surround sound.
As time passed, the city of Detroit, as we all know, would end up falling in love with The Joe. It was the setting for four Stanley cups, it was the ice surface where Claude Lemieux got his butt kicked, and it was location the Howe family chose to say goodbye to hockey legend, Gordie. The building has earned its place in hockey history.
And now we enter a new era. What started at the Border Cities Arena in Windsor will now move to yet another location; a new place to grow legends, a new ice surface to make history, and new rafters to raise banners of championships not yet won. There is no doubt that generations from now our grandchildren will shed a tear as the Wings play their last game at Little Ceasar’s Arena. They will recall the great moments they witnessed from the stands, the Stanley cup kissed from centre ice, and vengeance served in rivalries that are just now being developed. And we, like our fathers before us, will bore them with tales from the “good ole days”.
In the meantime, however, we have the present day to enjoy. The Detroit Red Wings will play their first game at their new arena this coming October, and with any luck they will break the generational curse that seems follow them from home to home. Unlike their first game in Windsor; unlike their first game at the Olympia; and, unlike their first game at The Joe, they will look to ring a new era with win and set the stage for decades to come.
– R. M Crits
P.S – This video will help you say goodbye to The Joe
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