July 23, 2017

Hockey Heroes: Steve Yzerman

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).

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