By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
DETROIT – For one night only, Motown is Sportstown. With the Tigers taking on the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park at 7:05 p.m., the Red Wings and Penguins playing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals at 8 p.m. and the Pistons and Celtics tipping off 30 minutes later, three major sports collide here in Detroit.
That said, though, the question at Joe Louis Arena and around the NHL is this: If this is the league’s dream final, with two marquee teams having it out, will it be enough? Will the matchup of the Detroit Red Wings and “the face of the sport,” as Red Wings GM Ken Holland called Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, be enough to push hockey back into the fringe of relevancy in the United States?
Well, for starters, it doesn’t help that the competition is fiercest right here in the city. With Boston losing its first home game, many eyes were in Auburn Hills looking to see if the Celtics can actually win one on the road. The Tigers, with the second highest payroll in major league baseball, are trying to climb out of the incredible hole they dug in the season’s first month. Despite their losing record,the Tigers still have enough star power to keep people interested. So, where does that leave hockey?
Well, this is Hockeytown, isn’t it?
“That’s what they say,” said one Detroit resident. “And I say ‘they’ because I don’t know much about it.”
“Oh, are you here for the basketball game?” asked another, a Tigers fan.
There were, finally, some hockey fans milling about outside the Joe, looking from afar toward the players’ entrance into the arena. “No, I’m from South Bend, Indiana” said a fan clad in a vintage Red Wings jacket. “Drove up to take part in the festivities.”
There were a decent number of Red Wings and, incidentally, Penguins jerseys roaming outside the Joe, looking to catch a glimpse of the players as they left morning skate. It’ll be interesting to see how many Pittsburgh fans show up for Games 1 and 2 since Pittsburgh is only about a five-hour drive from Detroit; the eastern-most Western Conference city vs. the western-most Eastern Conference city. Well, not completely true (Atlanta is further west), but you get the idea.
“I spent $1,500 on this weekend between the tickets, the hotel and everything,” said one Pittsburgh fan, who drove the five hours to Detroit.
Why not just go when the Penguins return to Mellon Arena for Games 3 and 4?
“Oh, I couldn’t get tickets there.”
Which raises another interesting point in Detroit. For a place steeped in so much hockey history, that prides itself on its fanatical fanbase, for a team that says, “we have fans everywhere we go,” as forward Kris Draper said today, why was there so much talk over the empty seats -- in the lower bowl, no less -- during the season? And why can a guy from Pittsburgh get a couple of seats (bought online, he said) here in Hockeytown but not in his own hometown?
Whatever the case may be, here in Detroit, three major sports will collided on Saturday night. The only surefire winners are the fans.
As for hockey, here’s hoping for a memorable series because if this matchup can’t bring in the casual fan, then it may just be time to admit that there are no casual hockey fans.