January 01, 2007

Steve Yzerman Honoured

The Detroit Red Wings will honour Steve Yzerman by retiring his familiar #19 jersey on Tuesday, January 2nd.

Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay will be among the Red Wings on hand Tuesday night for Steve Yzerman's jersey retirement ceremony. The game will be televised across Canada on a special weeknight edition of Hockey Night In Canada.

Heroic. Unselfish. Intelligent. Leader. Complete. These are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Hockeytown's Steve Yzerman.

Once he was scoring machine that used to single-handedly destroy the opposition with mind-boggling individual efforts night after night. Later he became forever remembered as the grizzled veteran captain that puts the team ahead of himself and accepts responsibility for all situations on the ice.

Steve Yzerman is a winner.

Stevie Y came out of junior hockey straight into the Detroit Red Wings camp in 1983. The Nepean, Ontario native was an outstanding center with legendary junior coach Dick Todd and his Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, from 1981 to 1983. He had 91 points in 56 games in his second year with the Petes, but his numbers were far from what a future NHL phenom would have had because Peterborough skated four lines, each having equal playing time.

Jim Devellano, the Wings GM at the time, had originally set his sights on Michigan native Pat LaFontaine for the 1983 draft, but his plans were foiled when LaFontaine was taken 3rd by the Islanders. With some disappointment, the Red Wings were left with the small Yzerman with the 4th overall pick. (Brian Lawton and Sylvain Turgeon went 1 & 2, respectively.)

Any notion of disappointment or concern about his size quickly disappeared. Yzerman arrived at training camp in 1983, "he immediately was our best player," said Devellano, who opened camp already deciding Yzerman would return to Peterborough. Instead Yzerman jumpstarted the Motor City, immediately giving the Wings hopes that finally they had found the player that would lead them back to respectability. In his rookie season, Yzerman scored 39 goals and 87 points and announced to the hockey world the Y-man had cometh.

Steve's great play would continue, but it was in the spring of 1987 when Yzerman first began is catapult to superstardom. That year he led the Wings deep into the playoffs, scoring 18 points in 16 games. He followed that up the next season by registering his first 50 goal and 100 point campaigns, and he did that in only 64 games.

The following season saw his point totals explode to the level that only Gretzky and Lemieux dared to enter. In 80 games Stevie Y scored 65 times while assisting on 90 others for 155 points! All three of those stats are Red Wing team records. For his efforts, Yzerman was voted by the players as the best player in the league that season, winning the Lester B. Pearson Trophy.

Proving that the previous season was no strange fluke, Yzerman duplicated his scoring feats by registering 62 twine-twisters with 65 assists for 127 points.

Despite the incredible offensive output by the Cranbrook, BC-born superstar, Yzerman never once made either the First or Second All Star Team. Nor did he win an Art Ross as the scoring leader. That's what happens when Gretzky and Lemieux were also around in their primes. No one, not even Stevie Y, could obtain their status or touch their trophies. Once you include the great Mark Messier as well, players as great as Steve Yzerman were unthinkably left off of Team Canada's national teams at Canada Cups.

Back in Detroit, despite being the one-man highlight film, the Red Wings had little playoff success to speak of.

This one man show of offensive fireworks would continue until the 1993-94 season when something happened in Yzerman's career. He sacrificed his own scoring exploits to become one of the best two way players in the history of the game.

While this transformation coincided with the arrival of Scotty Bowman, who gets much of the credit for the reworked masterpiece, it was Yzerman who deserves full credit. Dating back to his junior days he was always a solid two way player. Now he opted to focus his gifts equally all over the ice as opposed to just on offense. Stevie Wonder would turn from a rather one-dimensional offensive machine into one of the greatest two way players in the history of the sport.

Yzerman became perhaps the most complete player of the 1990s, continuing his offensive production, though at a lower rate, while dominating his defensive zone with vigor. In the process, Yzerman became a leader. He knew that becoming a more complete player was what was necessary for him to succeed and the Wings to win. His example spurred great things in Hockeytown.

Soon after this transformation, the Wings have began a mini-dynasty. Three Stanley Cups in five years, including back-to-back championships.

In 1995, Yzerman led Detroit to its first Stanley Cup finals series, the first for the team since the 1960s, but they were swept by the New Jersey Devils. In 1996, Detroit finished with an NHL record 62 regular season wins but they lost in the Conference finals to the eventual champions Colorado Avalanche.

In 1997, Yzerman led Detroit to its first Stanley Cup in 42 years by sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in 4 straight games. The following year Detroit repeated the feat, taking four in a row from the Washington Capitals. Yzerman's leadership and 24 points earned him the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. In an act of class, Yzerman handed the Cup first to the paralyzed Vladimir Konstantinov, a Red Wing defenseman who had been injured severely in a car accident just six days after the Cup victory in 1997.

Playoff frustrations would haunt the Red Wings in the following years, but they would regain the silver chalice in 2002. That year Yzerman turned in one of the most amazing seasons by any player in NHL history. Due to a hobbling knee injury, Yzerman, almost literally playing on one leg, led Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years before leading the Wings to their 3rd Stanley Cup championship in five years.

Steve Yzerman is no longer the high scoring one-man show of the Detroit Red Wings. Instead he is one of the game's most complete players ever. He is one the greatest leaders the ice has ever known. And most importantly, he is the captain of the 3 Stanley Cup Championships.

One of the NHL's true all time greats, Steve Yzerman is what hockey is all about.

The 41-year-old Yzerman is a Detroit sports icon, the longest-serving captain in NHL history (19 seasons). He and Gordie Howe are widely regarded as the greatest players in franchise history. Yzerman ranks seventh on the NHL's career list in goals (692) and assists (1,063) and sixth in points (1,755).

Around The Web
Eric Adelson at ESPN.com's The Magazine has a heart touching story about Stevie Wonderful and a very special friend, Braxton.

ESPN.com has an incredible photo gallery that is simply a must see.

The Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek has plenty of praise for Stevie Y.

NHL.com has no shortage of coverage. Paul Kukla shares his memories via his NHL.com blog. Phil Coffey also looks at Yzerman's night to remember.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun remembers Yzerman for what he was - hockey's ultimate leader.

This Detroit Free Press headline sums it up nicely though sadly - Yzerman Takes Center Stage One Last Time.

Lastly, here's a nice YouTube.com tribute:

Other Detroit Red Wings Legends

It used to be Gordie Howe was the undeniable king of hockeytown. I don't know, I think Steve Yzerman is sharing that throne nowadays. The Red Wings have featured a lot of NHL greats in recent years, but also throughout their long NHL history. Here's a look back at some of the all time greats and other notables in Red Wing history.

Pete Babando - Pete Babando Stanley Cup heroics have stood the tests of time. His double overtime goal in game 7 of the 1950 Stanley Cup finals is still talked about to this day.
Alex Faulkner - The first "Newfie" to leave the island and play in the National Hockey League, Alex Faulkner will always be Newfoundland's favorite hockey playing son.
Danny Gare - This Buffalo sparkplug teamed with Don Luce and Craig Ramsey on the Sabres' other great line during the 1970s
Paul Henderson - A solid though ordinary player, Paul Henderson became forever a hockey immortal thanks to his 1972 Summit Series heroics
Gordie Howe - Forget about Gretzky or Lemieux. Old time hockey fans will insist Gordie Howe is the greatest of all time, with great merit. Mr. Hockey could do it all
Syd Howe - Before Detroit Red Wings fans had ever heard of Gordie Howe, Hockeytown was celebrating the greatness of the unrelated Syd Howe.
Red Kelly - A superstar defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings, he later became one of the most cerebral centers in hockey history while with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tony Leswick - This undersized pest made a big name for himself as a defensive specialist. He was particularly well known for his battles with Rocket Richard.
Dale McCourt - One of the most important figures in NHL draft history, McCourt was a bit of a bust in the National Hockey League.
Bucko McDonald - Nearly forgotten as a hard hitting stay at home defenseman, Bucko McDonald's claim to fame may be the fact that he coached Bobby Orr as a youth and was instrumental in his development.
Bob Probert - Hockey's ultimate tough guy rarely lost a battle on the ice. Unfortunately he's lost more than a few off of it.
Marcel Pronovost - A fearless, rugged rearguard with Detroit Red Wings and later the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pronovost won 5 Stanley Cups
Terry Sawchuk - Though modern fans will likely choose Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek, veteran fans will tell you Terry Sawchuk is the greatest goaltender of all time.
Norm Ullman - Even though he was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Norm Ullman remains one of hockey's most underrated stars.
Steve Yzerman - What more can be said about Stevie Wonder? He was one of hockey's greatest players and classiest people.

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