Hockey players' code makes return of Yzerman likely By Jerry Green / The Detroit News
They are hockey players, and they play under a code that they do not share with the athletes in other sports. They ignore a hangnail or a sliced face or a fractured leg or a ruptured knee, and keep going. It is not that the athletes in football and the other collision sports are wimps. It is that the hockey players have learned their sport on a frozen, hard surface wearing razor blades on their feet, with clubs in their hands. Playing with damaged body parts is ingrained in their minds -- and hearts.
Steve Yzerman will be playing as captain of the Wings in April when the playoffs start. My estimate, without any medical background, is 95 percent. He will be playing despite the doom-saying surgeons who operated on his terribly torn knee and then said he had just a 50-50 chance.
They operated on his knee, but they didn't touch his heart. He played powered by that heart last spring when he led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup on a crippled knee that buckled and ached. "What's inside is more important than what's outside," Wings Coach Dave Lewis said.
That is the code.
Years ago, I recall the Wings' Normie Ullman entering the old Olympia from the outside cold, propelled by a pair of crutches. Well, Ullman won't be playing tonight. His foot's broken, I thought. Broken the foot was. But a needle was jabbed into it, and it was stuffed into a skate boot. And Ullman skated that night, taking all his shifts and playing with his usual efficiency. Then after the game, he departed Olympia into the cold, swinging along on his crutches. Ullman played by the code.
There was another night in Olympia, the sixth game of the 1964 Cup Finals. The Wings were on the brink of clinching the Cup against the Maple Leafs. The Leafs' Bobby Baun limped off in the third period with a broken leg. Still, the Leafs tied the score. Somehow in overtime, Baun managed to get back onto the ice. He took a shot from the right point. The puck ricocheted off Bill Gadsby's stick and went into the goal over Terry Sawchuk's shoulder. The Leafs evened the series. Baun was grinning in the Leafs' dressing room. He told how his leg had been frozen by a syringe, and he spoke about the code. Two nights later, the Leafs won the Cup.
Back in 1950, Gordie Howe was crashed headlong into the boards at Olympia in a playoff game. He was carted from the ice, bleeding, unconscious. His skull was fractured. There was concern for his life. Certainly, the docs said, Gordie would never play hockey again. Howe was 22 at the time. He played the following season, and he was 52 when he ended his career in the NHL. Howe lived by the code.
One night in Maple Leaf Gardens, many years ago, I sat next to a young hockey player who was out with a badly damaged knee. He was to be out for the rest of the season. The player guaranteed he would rejoin his team during the playoffs. And he did, playing gamely on one leg, exemplifying the hockey player's code. That young hockey player was Steve Yzerman.