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The Arena History of the Detroit Red Wings

Little Caesars Arena

There will soon be a new chapter in the story of a historic NHL franchise, as the Detroit Red Wings are about to take the ice at Little Caesars Arena.

Though the venue has already been used for preseason games, its first regular-season contest is set for October 5 against the Minnesota Wild. With that game, the Red Wings will debut the latest arena in their franchise history–one that traces back to the early 20th century, and covers multiple venues that are essential to NHL history.

It was in 1926 that the Detroit Cougars began play in the NHL. The upstart franchise, however, was based in a city that lacked a suitable home, so it began play at Border Cities Arena in nearby Windsor, Ontario.

Detroit Olympia

Border Cities Arena was meant to be a temporary solution for the Cougars, who planned to move into a new venue in Detroit. That plan came to fruition in 1927, when they began play at Detroit Olympia (also known as Olympia Stadium or just the Olympia, as shown above). On November 22–about a month after its first event–the Cougars made their debut at the Olympia, losing to the Ottawa Senators.

Over its long history at the Olympia, the franchise underwent significant changes but saw plenty of success along the way. The Cougars became the Falcons in 1930, only to change their name to the Red Wings in 1932. On the ice, the team won its first Stanley Cup in 1936, and would go on to win the cup seven times over its run at the Olympia.

For decades, the arena would serve the Red Wings and become one of the most storied in the history of the NHL. Over time, however, the Red Wings’ desire for a new arena would grow.

Eventually, an agreement was reached for the Red Wings to depart the Olympia and move into a new arena that was to be constructed along the Detroit River at a site adjacent to the Cobo Center. The Red Wings played their final game at the Olympia on December 15, 1979, a contest that resulted in a 4-4 tie against the Quebec Nordiques. The Olympia would remain standing for several years, but was largely inactive before being demolished in the mid-1980s.

On December 27, 1979, the Red Wings played their first game at the new venue–Joe Louis Arena. Within a short timeframe, Joe Louis Arena would host the NHL All-Star Game on February 5, 1980.

The enthusiasm and intensity of the Red Wings’ fan base that had defined the Olympia carried over to Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings would experience more success. Over a period that ended with the 2016-17 campaign, the Red Wings made 25 consecutive playoff appearances. During that span, the team appeared in six Stanley Cup finals, winning four of them.

Joe Louis Arena also played host to a unique slate of non-NHL events. The NBA’s Detroit Pistons played home games there in 1985 after the roof of the Pontiac Silverdome was damaged, and the 1980 Republican National Convention was staged at the facility.

Over time, however, the Red Wings began exploring their options for a new arena, leading them to pursue a new facility in downtown Detroit. Joe Louis Arena hosted its final NHL game in April 2017, with the last ticketed event occurring in July of that year. The arena still stands, but is expected to be demolished to clear the way for redevelopment.

Now, the Red Wings are preparing for their regular season debut at Little Caesars Arena. Intended as part of a larger development known as The District Detroit, the arena will play host to both the Red Wings and the Pistons-who announced their intention to move to the venue during its construction period last fall-but the Red Wings will be the first of the two teams to make their regular season debut. No official announcement has been made as to when it will be played, but it is anticipated that Little Caesars Arena will eventually stage the first NHL All-Star Game to be hosted by the Red Wings since Joe Louis Arena’s 1980 turn at the event.

Image of Little Caesars Arena courtesy Little Caesars Arena.

RELATED STORIES: The Detroit Pistons and the Journey to Little Caesars Arena

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