Thursday, October 4, 2007

Hockeytown! now Hockeytown?

It was the best of times and I guess the worst of times at the Red Wings season opener at Joe Louis last night. The good times part is the Wings won in a shootout and it looks as though we haven’t missed a step even with the departure of some key players like Todd Bertuzzi, who scored a goal and an assist for his new team, the visiting Ducks. Hank Zetterberg scored a goal and picked up an assist for the homers and was the first star of the game and Dallas Drake, our off-season free agent pickup, kicked off the fighting portion of the season.

But the worst of times part is the game was not sold out. In fact, from what they are reporting, there were up to 2500 empty seats. This is the first time the Red Wings did not sell out since 1996, ending a streak of 396 regular season games.

Of course, the nattering nabobs of negativity that are the Detroit sports columnists used this fact as an obituary for Hockeytown (which was a cheesy marketing slogan anyway). When I say negative, I mean specifically Drew Sharp. He will take any development, make a sweeping generalization and then smear the hometown team and fans with hackery like this, “Sprinkle red roses over the grave. The myth of Hockeytown officially passed away Wednesday.” (Did they revoke our three recent Stanley Cups?) Wojo in the News had a much more nuanced and balanced account of what is happening.

This drama all because a game in early October did not sell out? Okay, it was the season opener but maybe fans are just getting over the Tigers missing the post season and the Lions are giving us hope early in their season. There is only so much love (and disposable income) to spread around.

The real problem may be how meaningless the NHL regular season is, especially for a team like the Red Wings, a highly skilled crew who can cruise through the regular season. We don’t even get excited about having the best record in the league, since on two occasions all this has meant is a first round playoff exit. I usually set my hockey alarm clock for the playoffs.

And I know there is a lot of sentimentality with Joe Louis Arena, it does have great memories and good sightlines to watch a game, but Mr. Illitch needs to build a new stadium. It was a bad idea to build the arena on the river, since an enclosed arena doesn’t exactly take advantage of river views. And it makes getting to the stadium a pain the ass besides.

Winning is not enough for the Red Wings, especially when your fans take it for granted. The Wings need a new stadium and a move to the Eastern Conference.

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