Red Wings fans still love Steve Yzerman
DETROIT — There are few players who evoke the reaction that Steve Yzerman does in Detroit.
Although Yzerman is incredibly busy with his main job as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and his side job as general manager of Team Canada, he managed to make it to the Alumni Showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Comerica Park Tuesday.
Yzerman was the last Red Wing introduced and received a standing ovation.
"It was pretty neat," Yzerman said. "I think we all as kids envisioned walking out at Comerica or Tiger Stadium to the roar of the crowd in a Tigers uniform, not necessarily in a Red Wings uniform. That’s as close as I’ll get, but it was pretty cool."
It was also cool for the fans to be able to say a proper goodbye to the man who wore the captain’s C for two decades.
The Red Wings were ousted in the first round of the 2006 playoffs, so Yzerman’s last game was a 4-2 loss in Game 6 in Edmonton.
Although the Wings retired Yzerman’s No. 19 on Jan. 2, 2007, and fans celebrated him then, they also wanted a chance to see him on the ice one last time.
But Yzerman was reluctant to commit because of his demanding schedule, so the Wings left it up to him.
"I really just wanted to give him as much time as possible," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "We had talked internally in August about approaching him. I said, ‘Let’s give him ’til late November, early December.’
He’s a general manager in the National Hockey League. He’s got lots of responsibility."
Yzerman said he was glad he was able to make the time to play.
"I enjoyed it," Yzerman said. "In the last month as we were kind of ironing out my schedule, I thought, ‘You know what? It looks like I’ll be able to get there and play.’
"I didn’t have any time to skate before today, so all in all, I’m pleased with my performance."
Despite finishing his career eighth all-time in regular-season goals, sixth in overall scoring, seventh in regular-season assists and eighth in playoff scoring, Yzerman didn’t get on the score sheet in Tuesday’s second alumni game.
"I did my best, I’ll put it that way," Yzerman said. "I enjoyed it. It’s been a tremendous time here. I’ll enjoy coming back and being a part of things whenever I can.
"I’m very appreciative of how I’ve been treated and how my family’s treated here in Detroit. It’s always fun being a part of things here."
Chris Chelios said it wouldn’t have been the same without him.
"You had to have him in the game," Chelios said. "Itís just like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio and those guys being here. Heís an icon."
Holland said that aside from the lure of competition, it’s the camaraderie that players miss when they leave the game.
"These guys created incredible memories together, and you come back in the same locker room," Holland said. "They build up friendships that last a lifetime, so I’m sure for Steve to come back and see all these guys that he had built up incredible memories with, it’s gotta be special."
For one day at least, Yzerman could take a break from all of his responsibilities and get back to some of those memories.
"There’s guys I haven’t seen since I retired or since they were traded or whatnot," Yzerman said. "Time goes by and you come in the locker room, you kind of pick it up right where you left off. The humor’s the same.
"We’re all a little bit heavier, a little bit thinner hair and all that, but things haven’t changed that much."
Nor has Detroit’s love for one of its favorite superstars.
It doesn’t matter that Yzerman is in charge of another team and no longer spends much time in Detroit, the fans will always remember.
"All I can say is, the Red Wings fans, they love all the players, particularly the guys that played through those Stanley Cup years," Yzerman said. "Pretty popular guys.
"(I’m) real appreciative. Detroit’s a pretty special place to play for the players, really in any sport. I witnessed it as a fan of all the teams, the schools here. It’s a good place to be an athlete."