The St. Louis Blues did not have many fond memories in Joe Louis Arena. They did have one special first though.
They say that time heals all wounds. For St. Louis Blues fans that lived through the 1990’s and 2000’s, that’s not necessarily true.
St. Louis had a lot of painful and heartbreaking moments against the Detroit Red Wings over those time periods. Many of them came in Detroit.
While there are always tales of success that get blotted out by the human brain’s penchant for remembering the negative, the truth is that Joe Louis Arena was often a house of horrors for the Blues. Year after year, during some of the best years in Blues history, they always seemed to run into Detroit at the wrong time and the Red Wings did their best to build a fortress out of their famous arena.
Initially, however, the building was more famous for its name than the accomplishments done inside. The arena was named for the famous boxer who went on to become the heavyweight champion of the world. Louis grew up in Detroit, thus the connection.
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It was not really famous for many Blues memories though. It was infamous.
The one that always sticks out like a sore thumb, similar to the memory of Bobby Orr flying through the air until the Blues beat Boston to win the Stanley Cup, was Steve Yzerman‘s series-clinching goal against Jon Casey. It still makes me ill to think of it.
But, while more modern history was not kind to the Blues, they do have more good memories farther in the past. In fact, the Blues opened that building in style.
St. Louis was the Red Wings first opponent in Joe Louis Arena. The Note were not gracious guests.
On December 27, 1979, the Blues played both their first game in that arena and the first game Detroit played in there. The Blues took a particular honor away too.
Fans love it when their own team gets the first goal and the win in the first game. The beauty and torture of sports is that it doesn’t always go down that way.
Brian Sutter was known more for his toughness and tenacity, but he had a knack for scoring too. Though he had a down season in 1979-80, he managed to break hearts in Detroit.
In the first game in Joe Louis, Sutter would score the first goal. It was not pretty, but it was a gritty goal set up by Bernie Federko and finished off by a lunging backhand to scoop it over the goaltender.
It was just the kind of goal you might expect the Blues to score, especially the late 1970’s Blues. It was a fitting way to really kickstart what would become a divisional rivalry two seasons later when the Blues joined the Norris Division in the 1981-82 season.
Adding insult to injury, the Blues would go on to win the whole game. The Blues would skate to a 3-2 win that night.
St. Louis scored two unanswered goals in the third period. Sutter picked up an assist on the tying goal, repaying the favor by setting up Federko. Blair Chapman scored the game winner to really steal Detroit’s thunder.
Even though I was not alive at the time, it warms my heart a little to think that the Blues took the first goal and the first win in Joe Louis Arena. Of course, we’d have that heart and many others crushed other times, but such is life.
Joe Louis no longer exists as it was demolished, a slow process completed in the summer of 2020 ironically enough. But, even without the building still standing, the memory and history will never change.