Steve Yzerman last wore a Red Wings uniform on May 1, 2006.
It was a playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers, and Yzerman, The Captain, and his Detroit Red Wings had just been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the opening round.
Many of us in Detroit still vividly remember the picture of Yzerman leaving the ice for the last time as a player — No. 19 clutching the blade of his hockey stick in his left hand while he solemnly took his last step as a Red Wings player and first step into retirement. A solitary figure who left the game as he played it — in spectacular silence.
Even the rink employees realized the significance of the moment. One reached out to Yzerman for a handshake, but he kept right on walking.
Yzerman never sought or relished the limelight. Despite all his accomplishments, he always considered himself to be a part of a team, not an individual star.
I often asked Yzerman why he always downplayed his achievements, and he always responded the same way, “What do you want me to say?”
I have never been able to answer his question.
We cannot speak for an athlete who’s given us countless memories because all sports fans have are those memories. And Yzerman has given us so many memorable moments, ones you can recall where you were and what you were doing when he was blazing his path to Red Wings lore.
When he scored 50 goals for the first time, against Buffalo, and injured his knee, I was listening to the game on the radio with my dad.
I was covering the game against Colorado when he scored his 500th career goal, fittingly on Patrick Roy.
For the first two Stanley Cups he won, I was in a cramped radio studio, ready to go on the air for an all-night celebration.
And for the last of the three Cups he captured as a player, I was on the ice, just a few feet away from him as he was presented the grandest trophy in all of sports.
Whether I was a fan, a reporter or part of the Red Wings radio network, Yzerman always left an impression on me, on all of us, that will never be forgotten.
But there’s one memory that needs to be rectified. It’s that image of Yzerman wearing the Detroit colors for the last time. There’s something wrong about Yzerman’s final game being played 1,590.15 miles away from Detroit.
Sure the city, the organization and the fans have honored him plenty since he hung up the skates. He will always be known as The Captain, and his name will be revered forever in the Motor City.
We’ve never properly said goodbye and thank you, though. That’s why, Steve, it’s time to take your last skate in uniform on the ice.
On Dec. 31, 2012, at Comerica Park, with you standing shoulder to shoulder with your Red Wings brethren, soaking up the atmosphere as you’re about to take on the alumni of Detroit’s arch-rival, the dastardly Maple Leafs from Toronto.
For once in your life, Steve, make it about yourself and take a proper bow in the city that will always love No. 19.