No-shows at the Joe

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

DETROIT -- Hockeytown is becoming Hookey Town.

The Red Wings used to be the toughest ticket in Detroit, with 20,000 screaming fans packed into Joe Louis Arena on game night and another couple of thousand with their noses pressed up against the sold-out sign.

Now, the place is starting to look like a high school math class the Friday afternoon before a long weekend.

Where is everyone?

In the Red Wings home opener, against the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, some 2,500 fans played hookey. And last night against the Edmonton Oilers there were about 8,000 no-shows.

They're blaming it on the Michigan economy, which is taking a terrible pounding with the decline of the American auto industry.

"It's not lack of interest," said Red Wings veteran Kirk Maltby.

"The economy here is really hurting. I live here pretty much year round... you see businesses close down, houses are going up for sale and nothing's being sold.

"It's just tough times right now, and you have to pay your bills before you're spending it on something for entertainment.

"Tickets aren't the cheapest thing to buy on a regular basis. Bring a family and try getting food and drinks and it can add up.

"The way things are, a lot more people are watching it at home, having a gathering with their friends.

"But it's still loud here, we still feel at home. It's not lack of interest in the team or hockey in general, I think it's tough times right now."

Oilers defenceman Matt Greene, born in nearby Grand Ledge, did his part, buying 26 tickets for family and friends to come and see him play.

"I lived here my whole life and never went to a game once," he said.

"It was impossible to get tickets. You had to know somebody who had season tickets who wasn't going.

"Now, you can walk right up and have a row all to yourself."

It's a stark change from the old days, but head coach Mike Babcock says it's a good lesson in never taking your fan support for granted.

"Our job here as a team is to play hard, to win enough games that the people want to come and support us," he said.

"It doesn't matter if you're in Canada or Southern California, the more games you win the more people want to come. You have to create a buzz by winning. That's our focus."

LATE HITS: Shawn Horcoff, with 237 career points heading into last night's game, is 17th on the Oilers all-time list, but will just two spots very shortly. He's two points back of Jason Arnott (239) and three behind Kelly Buchberger (240) ... The Red Wings have always kept close ties to their tradition, to the point of keeping open dressing room stalls with Howe, Delveccio and Sawchuck name plates. The Oilers will make similar tributes to their greats in their new room. Head coach Craig MacTavish would like to see a portrait with a message from the player. "A little insight about how he wants to be remembered or advice he'd like to pass on to young player," said MacTavish.


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