By David Fleet
Jay Stark was a 17-year-old from western Canada when he was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings and signed a three-year contract as a defenseman.
“In 1986 I remember making the trip to Detroit and a game at the Joe Louis Arena,” said Stark, who grew up in British Columbia and first took up hockey at the age of seven.
“The JLA was very impressive. There were several of us drafted by the Red Wings who were invited to Detroit for a game. We visited the locker room and sat in Red Wing owner Mike Ilitch’s box at the JLA. The Ilitchs did not attend that game.”
Today, Stark operates Brandon Chiropractic Center, 125 S. Ortonville Road in Ortonville. His reflections of the Joe Louis Arena follow the closing of the Detroit landmark on April 9 with the Red Wings notching a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Red Wings will begin play this fall at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
“I remember they were in the process of demolishing the old Olympia Stadium and the Joe had been open for about seven years,” he said.
Stark played major junior hockey out west in Portland and Seattle before finishing his junior career with the Flint Spirits of the International Hockey League in 1990-91. Along the way, Stark had the chance to play with some notable NHL players including two NHL All-Stars, Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche and Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars.
While Stark never played on Joe Louis ice during an NHL game, he did play in several Red Wing alumni games at the JLA.
“What I remember about the Joe was just how small the players’ benches are—there’s just not enough room,” he said. “But the ice at the Joe was gorgeous. It’s just amazing how well they take care of it. The boards are very lively, too—the puck really comes back fast. When you look up and see all those Stanley Cup banners, its inspiring. I’ve skated and been to many hockey arenas in western Canada and the United States and nothing ever came close to the JLA, the atmosphere is unreal.”