Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Detroit Red Wings – Phoenix Coyotes (14-12-2009)

As my Brazilian friend and colleague A. is about to go back to Rio, we planned a farewell trip to Hockeytown USA: Detroit, Michigan. To my surprise I had been able to buy tickets online, through the dreaded Ticketmaster: $38 + $6.50 “service charge” (ca. €30.50). We left South Bend around 14.00, making sure that we would be in time for both the game and the Coney Island test. Fortunately, it wasn’t snowing, so we made the 210 miles (ca. 340 km) within 4 hours, including a snack stop.

We parked under the Civic Center and followed some (drunken) fans to the Joe Louis Arena. “The Joe” is a hockey arena and has been home to the Detroit Red Wings since 1979. It holds 20,066 people for Red Wings games. As soon as you walk in, you taste the tradition.

Detroit was among the six original founders of the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1917. However, at that time the team was called the Cougars (1926-30), later changed to the Falcons (1930-32), and finally the Red Wings (since 1932). During their more than 80 year existence the team won numerous titles, most recently their eleventh Stanley Cup in 2008.

After checking out the merchandise, which was out of control, we made our way to our places. We were totally at the top of the first rank, in between some die hard Red Wings fans. To my surprise the stadium was at best 75% full, which might be due to a combination of a bad start of the season and the economic crisis (which, yet again, hits Michigan hard). The view from our seats was fine though.

After the obligatory national anthem, which was interrupted by a shout (something I have never experienced before in the US), we got ready for the game with, how could it be anything else, “Detroit Rock City” of KISS! Magic!

The first period started a bit slow, but within minutes the Red Wings started to combine well and create some chances. A good combination leads to 1-0, and finally some noise in the Joe. While the Coyotes had power play, the Red Wings got out with a counter and score with a lucky shot: 2-0. Not much later the Coyotes score while a Red Wings player is on the ground, which leads to massive booing and a 2-1 score after the first period.

Shortly into the second period the Red Wings shoot softly at goal and the Coyotes goalie totally misses it: 3-1. The hosts dominate the rest of the period, but the play gets poorer and poorer. While the fans around us are clearly hardcore, they don’t make much noise. Moreover, the only chant seems to be “Let’s go Red Wings”. Just before the end of the second period, the Coyotes score through a hard shot: 3-2.

The third period starts out fairly well, with the Coyotes pressing for the tie. The Red Wings hardly feature in the game. The people around us get worried, but in the end the Red Wings hold on to the tight one-goal lead.

There is no doubt that hockey is alive in Detroit. The city lives for its Red Wings, even if The Joe isn’t always sold out. That said, the atmosphere was less impressive than I had expected. Moreover, the team’s performance was light years away from that of the Red Wings that dominated the NHL only a couple of years ago. They do miss Steve Yzerman.

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