Howe Now, Wow: Detroit Is Hockey's Hotbed

By Dave Luecking Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 11, 1995 | Go to article overview

Howe Now, Wow: Detroit Is Hockey's Hotbed


Dave Luecking Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


One of the first indoor hockey rinks in the Detroit area was owned and operated by Red Wings' legend Gordie Howe.

It wasn't much. Just an old, dilapidated warehouse that Howe turned into a rink, while Gordie Howe Hockey Land was under construction nearby in St. Clair Shores, northeast of downtown.

Gordie's son, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mark Howe, played his first organized hockey there 35 years ago.

"It was an old broken factory, just a shell of a building," Mark Howe said. "They bought some boards and put 'em up inside."

Never mind the old railroad tracks that ran through the building.

"It was funny," Howe said. "The building was enclosed, but you'd see the tracks, then the rink and then the railroad tracks coming out the other side.

"They didn't even lift the tracks up. They went in, poured the water and let it freeze right on top of 'em. It was still natural ice, but at least when it snowed, you didn't have to shovel between periods.

"Before that, it was strictly outdoor arenas. That's all it was."

My, Howe times have changed. Another generation of the Howe family took to the ice here last year in decidedly upscale fashion.

Nolan Howe, now age 9, played his first organized hockey in a sparkling three-rink arena two blocks from his home in suburban Detroit. The rink is strictly state of the art, spacious, with all the latest bells and whistles, but there's one small problem.

There's not enough ice time to go around. Name value aside, Nolan Howe almost didn't get to play for that reason.

"The only reason he was able to get into the program was that he was in the learn-to-skate program the year before," Mark Howe said. "I mean, they had to cut 250 to 300 kids, and they have three rinks!"

Such is life in Hockey Town USA.

"I grew up in Detroit," Howe said. "I've seen it in the long haul, and I think Detroit is the best hockey city in the U.S. . . . It's crazy how hockey's growing."

"It's just exploding right now," said Red Wings broadcaster Paul Woods, a former Red Wings player. "Rinks with two slabs now have three slabs."

And as Mark Howe found out, that's not enough.

"As many rinks as there are, there's still not enough surfaces where kids can play," said Red Wings' winger Dino Ciccarelli, who's involved with a group of investors trying to develop a three-rink arena in the suburb of Troy, Mich.

***** `Hockey Mecca'

Detroit has become, in the words of former Blues assistant coach and Detroit-based Florida Panthers scout Doug MacLean, "the hockey Mecca in North America."

Canadians may not agree - they invented hockey, right? - but Detroit can make a strong case for itself.

In addition to the Red Wings, who are trying to win their first Stanley Cup since a month before Mark Howe was born on May 28, 1955, the Detroit area supports two other professional teams.

The Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League play their games at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., and averaged 14,000 fans per game in their first season. The IHL headquarters moved to Bloomfield Hills, Mich., from Indianapolis.

The Detroit Falcons of the Colonial Hockey League play at Fraser Arena, where the Red Wings sometimes practice.

The Detroit Junior Red Wings, meanwhile, play in the Ontario Hockey League and lost to Kamloops, British Columbia, in the Memorial Cup - the Stanley Cup of Canadian junior hockey. …

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