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Throwback Thursday: Saying goodbye to the home of the Red Wings

Back in 1980, THN paid tribute to the historic home of the Detroit Red Wings as they prepared to open a brand new arena.

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past.

This week in honor of Joe Louis Arena closing this weekend, a look back at when they said goodbye to their previous home -- the Detroit Olympia.

'Olympia provided untold thrills, memories'

Janary 4, 1980

By Vartan Kupelian

Ah, the memories of Olympia…

Tony Leswick came over the boards for his first overtime shift and seconds later at 4:29 scored the winning goal in Detroit’s 2-1 Stanley Cup clinching victory over Montreal.

“I just came on the ice,” said Touch Tony, reliving the moment. “The puck rebounded off the boards behind the goal – the boards of Olympia, they were always so lively – and out to the blueline. I just moved in and let it go from about 30 feet. That was it. Next thing you know, I’m mauled by the players.”

The date was April 16, 1954.

There are so many memories of Olympia, now the “former” home of the Red Wings. The Wings will debut in their new home, the 19,500-seat Joe Louis, on Dec. 27 against the St. Louis Blues.

“It was a thrill the first time I ever saw the building, even to see the marquis, when I first came in for training camp in 1937,” said Black Jack Stewart, the Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman who played for the Red Wings in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Just to see the building… the Red Wings had just won two Stanley Cups. I was 19 and was trying out. Marty Barry, Aurie, Lewis, Ebbie Goodfellow. Normie Smith was the goalie. I’ll be sorry to see it go. It was a landmark, it will be missed."

Lincoln Cavalieri, general manager of Olympia, said “nothing’s definite” concerning Olympia’s future, if indeed, it does have a future.

“We’ve been so busy with other things that we haven’t done anything yet,” Cavalieri said. “We have the responsibility, not the city, of disposing of this building.”

Cavalieri said he is continuing discussions with people interested in buying the building.

“It was always nice to go in there (Olympia) when they put up the pictures of the players in the corridors,” said Leswick, who lives in New Westminster, British Colombia. “I just enjoyed going into the building. There were an awful lot of things about it… I lived across the street there. I loved Detroit. The people were always so nice. It’s the best place you can play.”

Metro Prystai, who scored the winning goal in the 1952 Stanley Cup finals, shared the sentiments. Prystai had the game’s first and third scores in a 3-0 victory, again over Montreal.

“What I remember was the third goal,” said Prystai, who is an insurance agent in Wynyard, Saskatchewan. “It was 2-0 in the third period and the Canadiens were really pressing. Doug Harvey took a shot. I blocked it and went after it like a rabbit.

Ptrystai caught up with the puck and scored.

“The other thing I remember is Leswick’s goal, because we weren’t supposed to win the Cup that year,” Prystai said. “Montreal had a real power. It was the year the Canadiens wouldn’t shake hands with us afterward and there was a hullaballoo.”

“The thing I’ll always remember – even when I played against the Wings – was the ice at Olympia. It was the best ice in the league and the boards were very lively.”

John Zeigler, president of the National Hockey League, is a native Detroiter. He grew up like a lot of other young boys in the city – as a hockey fan.

“The first game I ever attended, I was in awe to come in and see the ice,” Zeigler said. “First time I was ever in an indoor arena. I was about 12, 13 years old, very impressionable. Those were the days of Abel, Lindsay, and Howe.”

“I think the various milestones of Gordie’s (Howe) were highlights. I always remember those ovations. I go back to his 300th, 400th, 500th, those kinds of things. The night he beat Rocket Richard with his 545th… It was like you scored with him.”

Cavalieri said there was some uneasiness on the eve of the last game at the Olympia.

“Everybody really feels a little nostalgia right now,” he said. “It’s a not going to be a very happy day for me. This is a helluva building that we’ve been in for a long time and many exciting things have happened here.“



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