Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard crouched in net and gazed up at the largest videoboard in the NHL.
“I caught myself a couple of times, especially in the first and halfway through the third, watching on the big screen,” Howard said. “I got to remind myself that there’s actually a game going on in front of me.”
Little Caesars Arena made its debut as a sports venue as the Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins 5-1 Saturday night.
And even the Bruins came away impressed.
“I don’t think there’s another arena that can compare to it,” Boston goaltender Zane McIntyre said.
That was the goal.
Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Chris Ilitch went on a mission to build the world’s finest arena. He traveled all over North America to borrow ideas from other arenas and stadiums. Ilitch also drew on experiences from trips to Europe to create an experience in, around and outside the building that is truly unique.
“To be state of the art, you have to know the state of the industry to truly be innovative,” Ilitch said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. “We want people to come and be amazed.”
So far, so good.
Kelly Mulley, a 25-year-old fan, made the trek from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to make the first preseason game without missing the birth of his daughter.
“Her due date was too close to the date of the first regular season game in a couple weeks,” Mulley said before pulling up his right sleeve to show the Red Wings’ winged wheel tattooed on the inside of his right biceps. “This place is a definite upgrade from Joe Louis Arena. It reminds me of the Bell Centre in Montreal because of how on top of the ice the fans seem to be and with the organist.”
The Red Wings said goodbye in April their former home, known as The Joe , where they raised four of the franchise’s 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters. The team and red-clad fans in the stands will be excited about Little Caesars Arena for a while, but the feel-good vibe will fade if the team doesn’t win.
Detroit failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, ending the NHL’s third longest postseason streak in league history.
“One of the guys on the team said there are no excuses not to win,” Olympia Entertainment President Tom Wilson said. “It’s a dream come true for players in terms of facilities.”
Kirk Malty agreed.
The former Red Wings player, who works for the organization as a pro scout, said the size of the dressing room is only one of the many upgrades.
“Not to be rude or mean, but it’s like the players are going from living in the back of a truck to moving into a mansion,” Maltby said.
The Pistons, who are moving downtown from The Palace of Auburn Hills in the suburbs, will take the court in the same space Oct. 4 against Charlotte in an exhibition game. Bob Seger’s concert on Saturday night was the arena’s final scheduled event.
“It was a very bold move for Tom Gores to move his team from his own arena,” Ilitch told The AP during an exclusive tour last month. “He has tremendous vision and knew he could take it up a notch and make a bigger impact on the community. This isn’t just an arena. What we’ve created is very, very special.”