DETROIT -- It was not a normal morning skate for the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. The players went through their paces but were paying particular attention to the nuances of the NHL's most palatial facility.
The Sabres made their debut in Little Caesars Arena, the third home of the Detroit Red Wings. And like predecessor Joe Louis Arena, the boards have more than just a tad of bounce in them in the Red Wings' new $863 million playpen.
"You go out to feel the ice. It's a very nice arena," goaltender Robin Lehner said. "I like the feeling in here. Nice and clean and bright. The boards were pretty bouncy but we know every arena is a little different. This one is fairly bouncy. Pucks were coming pretty fast off the boards."
Coach Phil Housley said his team was going to particularly watch that because Detroit's Justin Abdelkader scored on a long pass off the boards Wednesday against Calgary.
"We're well aware how lively they are," Housley said. "Joe Louis was lively too. You have to just have that awareness up ice. The ice was a little rough today, just because it was used and they were on it pretty hard before we skated. We'll have to manage that part of our game, getting used to the surroundings of a new building."
The Red Wings are sharing the building with the NBA's Pistons, who moved back downtown for the first time since leaving Cobo Hall in the late 1970s. Ice conditions have been an early season topic here. Joe Louis Arena was a hockey-only facility known for good ice and Wings veteran Henrik Zetterberg was among the players critical of the ice here at the start of the season.
"It's improved, definitely has been better of late," said Detroit standout Dylan Larkin. "They've taken care of it better as we've gone along. You try to make the whole place like 'the Joe.' Your fans are here, we live here and it's always good to be home on your own schedule."
The Sabres went 14-23-3-3 at Joe Louis Arena (1979-2017) and 8-15-2 at the Olympia (1970-79). This was the 72nd road arena the Sabres have played a game in. Of course, the arena has far more amenities than The Joe -- or most buildings in the NHL.
Capacity for hockey is 19,415 and the arena seating bowl, featuring a steep pitch and a huge 100 Level of seats, was patterned after Montreal's Bell Centre. As you would imagine, all of the seats are red and spotlight effects can make the entire inside of the bowl and ice surface the home team's color during pregame activities.
The scoreboard is a behemoth at more than 5,100 square feet, the largest viewing area in the NHL. The largest center-hung board in an indoor arena features more than 16.5 million LEDs.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 18, 2017
The concourse features a sweeping roof over a brick city scape, with the arena bowl to the left and several restaurants open to the public outside of events on the right. The facade includes giant pictures of Red Wings of the past and the marquee of Olympia Stadium, the Wings' home from 1927-1979.
The Wings' locker room is a much larger replica of the one at The Joe, with lockers honoring greats like Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay and photos of former Wings stars (including Dominik Hasek) over the lockers. There are statues in the concourse of the likes of Howe and Delvecchio and history displays, including one of goalie masks that features Hasek's lid from the 2002 Stanley Cup season.
Also in the locker room, the giant winged wheel logo is on the roof rather than the floor, so no one has to worry about it getting stepped on. A list of Red Wings award winners over the years is on a wall outside the room by a bar area that allows fans to watch the team come on and off the ice. The team also has its own practice rink on the event level.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) November 17, 2017
Kyle Criscuolo made his NHL debut for the Sabres after getting called up from Rochester on Thursday and Lehner stepped back to allow Criscuolo to take the ice first for warmups.
Criscuolo, who centered Zemgus Girgensons and Jordan Nolan, said he didn't sleep much Wednesday but was much more refreshed Thursday night after practicing with the Sabres earlier in the day.
"It was immensely important," Criscuolo said of the practice. "I didn't sleep well after the game Wednesday night while I was digesting it but I was able to sleep fine last year and get my mindset ready for a game. I don't need to be making crazy plays in my first game. Just make the simple plays and get to the net."
Criscuolo said his parents, brother, sister and girlfriend were all heading here from New Jersey for the game, as were some friends fromm Florida and Boston.
The Rochester Amerks had two major additions for Friday night's game against Hartford as both Alexander Nylander and Evan Rodrigues returned from injuries to make their season debut. Nylander has been out since early September with an undisclosed lower body injury while Rodrigues suffered a hand injury in the preseason that landed him in a cast.
Rodrigues has been in Rochester for a few days and the Sabres announced he was medically cleared to play and officially sent down late Friday afternoon.