David Booth is in his seventh NHL season and will play in his 344th career game on Thursday, but this will be his first outing in his hometown of Detroit.
"Exciting would be an understatement," the Vancouver Canucks forward said. "To finally get a chance to play there is something I have been looking forward to for a long time. It is the last of 30 rinks in the NHL that I have played in, but probably the one I have watched the most NHL games in.
"This is very exciting for me. It's sort of like a childhood dream come true."
Prior to be traded to the Canucks last October, the 27-year-old Booth played in the East with the Florida Panthers. So the occasions to play at Joe Louis Arena were rare. But every time a Panthers trip to the Motor City appeared on the schedule, something happened to Booth to prevent him from returning home to play.
On Dec. 15, 2007, he suffered a knee injury four days before the Panthers were to meet the Red Wings in Detroit. Florida's next game in Motown wasn't until Nov. 20, 2009. But a month before that game Philadelphia Flyers Mike Richards knocked Booth out for a lengthy stretch with a concussion after a devastating blindside hit.
"There have been the injuries. You begin to wonder if it will ever happen, but here we are," Booth said.
Booth was raised in Washington Township, just north of downtown Detroit. His family had season tickets in the front row, now far from the Zamboni entrance. He would often accompany his parents, Karen and Michael, or his two brothers and sister to Joe Louis Arena for Red Wings games. Later, when he attended Michigan State University, he would attend games with his Spartan teammates.
The Red Wings were his team back then. He focused on Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan when they were on the ice, and Booth was in the building the night Detroit celebrated the 1996-97 Stanley Cup final sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Growing up in Detroit, watching all those great teams, it was something that I really appreciated," Booth said.
Booth almost missed the Canucks game in Detroit this time around, too. On Dec. 6, he suffered a serious right knee injury after a knee-on-knee hit from Colorado Avalanche forward Kevin Porter. Porter was given a five-minute major penalty, game misconduct and four-game suspension as a result. Booth spent five weeks on the sidelines.
Although, he hasn't scored a point in his past three games, Booth has played well in his return from the knee injury. He has scored six times and has four assists in 15 games.
"It takes a lot of work to get back, especially when you lose some of your quickness and your strength after three or four weeks of not doing anything," Booth said. "But it helps to play with such great players like Ryan [Kesler]."
Booth began playing on the same team as Kesler when they were 12. They went to the United States national team development program a few years later and won gold over Canada in Helsinki at the 2004 world junior.
To play alongside Kesler once again and currently injured forward Chris Higgins, who was a teammate of Booth's in Florida, was a primary reason why Canucks general manager Mike Gillis acquired Booth. Vancouver also received forward Steven Reinprecht and a third round pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft from Florida in exchange for forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.
"It wasn't easy to be traded," Booth said. "I lived with my younger brother in Florida and it was hard to say good bye. But things have worked out fine and I'm happy to be with such a good team in Vancouver."
And, of course, finally get a chance to play an NHL game at Joe Louis Arena.
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