I keep thinking about it. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about it.
During the ceremony following the final game at Joe Louis Arena, there were several moments that brought the emotion of the Red Wings history and the arena to its peak.
Yes, we cheered for captains Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. The cheers roared for legends like Ted Lindsay, Scotty Bowman and Chris Chelios, growing even louder for fan favorites like Darren McCarty.
Bob Probert and Brad McCrimmon’s widows got thunderous applause as they stepped onto the ice.
But there was absolutely nothing that could compare to the introduction of Vladimir Konstantinov.
The former Red Wings defenseman was seriously injured in a limousine crash on June 13, 1997, just six days after his team won its Stanley Cup in nearly a half century. The emotional and physical leader of the Red Wings was not only never going to play hockey again, he was never going to walk again.
But he didn’t give up, he reminded us to simply “Believe.” And the inspiration of him returning to the ice at The Joe the following year and sitting with the Stanley Cup in his lap is an image I will never forget, just as I have never forgotten his outpouring of raw emotion when he lifted the Stanley Cup over his head the previous year—his eyes never so wide.
So his presence at the final game at The Joe was another reminder of his inspiration. Memories of a lot of players slowly fade in the minds of fans over the years. Many people have forgotten what Konstantinov did on the ice as a member of the Red Wings—what made him great. But no Red Wings fan has forgotten the look in his eyes when he raised the Stanley Cup the first time, or the 180-degree difference the next year when the cup was on his lap.
Fans were unsure if Konstantinov would be in attendance for the finale at The Joe. He did not come through the red carpet entrance surrounded by a sea of fans like most of the former and current Red Wings did.
So when his name and No. 16 were called at The Joe, the sold-out crowd erupted like the team had just won the Stanley Cup again. The thunderous applause and cheers were echoing throughout The Joe and lasted longer than any other ovation or any other moment during that final day at Joe Louis Arena.
Then, just as the roar of the crowd began to dwindle, it started. The fans slowly began to chant: “Vla-ddie, Vla-ddie!” and it got the crowd back to a fever pitch, so much that the pace of the ceremony came to a halt as Konstantinov was saluted.
Taking this all in, my eyes began to well up. I remember the greatness of Konstantinov on the ice. I remember the physical hits, the raw emotion and the greatness.
I remember the devastating news of the limousine crash, putting a cloud over what was supposed to be the greatest time to be a Red Wings fan. I remember him hoisting the cup and screaming. I remember him having to be helped to the ice just to hold the cup the next year.
I remember all of those things because Konstantinov was a unique sight to behold on the ice.
But I will remember most fighting back tears as the entire crowd at The Joe chanted his name one final time.