A Champion with a Golden Heart - In the Footsteps of Gordie Howe
Inside Hockey (Swedish) Issue 1, 1997
Steve Yzerman says that when he retires, he does it for good. When he retires, hockey will be something of his past.
"I have no intentions to look back at my time as a hockey player," says Yzerman, 32 year old captain of the Detroit Red Wings. "When it's over, it's over."
Well, it's not that easy, because Yzerman's name is written in the history books of ice-hockey and it will stay there, forever. This gives the young boys and girls of today a chance to look up to one of Canada's most devoted and nicest hockey players. A guy that, without doubt, has a heart shaped as a red maple leaf...
Yzerman has scored over 500 goals in the NHL and has scored more than 100 points six times so far in his career. That should be good enough to make the Hall of Fame. Despite all this, Yzerman has not received the reputation he deserves. The person responsible for that is Mike Keenan. Keenan chose not to select Yzerman for Team Canada in the Canada Cup both in 1987 and 1991. He has never been selected to the All-Star Team, neither the first nor the second.
"I don't care about those things, they don't mean so much to your career," Yzerman says.
Even if it doesn't bother Yzerman, you've got to ask the question: Why has one of Canada's best and most devoted centers never won something big? Former NHL goalie Mike Liut, now an employee of the NHLPA, thinks he has the answer, or at least the beginning of it.
"The only time you can be 100% satisfied is when you have won something, and then I mean something big like the Stanley Cup, not just games," says Liut, who played for St.Louis, Hartford and Washington between the years 1980-92.
Liut has a point. Steve Yzerman has never won the Stanley Cup, despite making his first season in 1983 with the Detroit Red Wings, a club he has been faithful to since. The only really big thing he has ever won is the Lester B. Pearson award in 1989, for outstanding players selected by the players themselves. We assume it means a lot.
The critics often say that Yzerman hasn't got the ability to step up his game in the play-offs. That's absolutely true and that's a mystery. No one knows why, not even Yzerman.
"I don't have a clue. I have one goal left in my career and that is to play better in the play-offs. And to win the Stanley Cup," he adds quickly.
Today Yzerman is the captain of Detroit. Not that you notice it that much. Yzerman is not that traditional "Ok boys, listen up" kind of guy like Mark Messier. He is much more silent.
"Steve Yzerman is a silent guy, who rather lets the game on the ice speak for him," former Detroit coach Jacques Demers says, who appointed Yzerman captain of the team in 1986. At that time was Yzerman only 21 years old. But why do you appoint a 21-year-old silent young man as team captain? Of course, we asked Demers.
"It was something special about that kid. He radiated happiness and a will to win. And even if he didn't talk so much, once he did, the boys listened. He always had something meaningful to say to his team-mates."
Despite his young age, Yzerman took his responsibility the right way and did what a captain have to do. When he spoke, he did it because he had something to say.
"The trust Demers had in me, made me more serious on practices and games. And it made me a better hockey player."
We should keep in mind that Yzerman was one of the NHL's most promising young players during that time. Fact is that he was so much better than most of his older team-mates, that it was he who scored the goals, assisted the goals, killed penalties and won face-offs. He was the only guy, who could do it.
In recent years, Detroit has improved their team. The management have built a new talented team, that should have won the Stanley Cup already. With the new team, Yzerman got less ice-time, they didn't need him as much as before. With Sergei Fedorov in the team, Yzerman is no longer the team's best player, not even Detroit's best center. Today he has to play more defensively, something he has had problems adjusting to.
However, he keeps his role as the captain and today he is a better captain than five years ago.
"I think he has been talking more lately than he has ever done in his 13-year-old career," former team-mate Keith Primeau says.
An example of that was when Yzerman went to a press conference after a practice. The players normally don't attend these press conferences. Yzerman made a statement.
"I think our top players has to pull themselves together and take more responsibility. There are players in this team, who have reached the phase in their careers when they should improve themselves a bit," Yzerman said, especially addressing Primeau.
What Yzerman means is that he is the only "big" player to make himself available for the press in the locker-room. The others, including Primeau and Fedorov tend to disappear until the media has left the room to start writing.
Yzerman's statement was successful. The team's owner, Mike Illitch, was satisfied and called the concerned stars, Fedorov and Primeau, to his office. He made it clear to them how important it was to co-operate with the media.
"Don't forget who's writing out your pay-checks," Illitch said.
A rumour that's constantly going around is that Detroit want to trade Yzerman. According to coach Scotty Bowman, that's not the case.
"We need Yzerman. I won't trade him," Bowman said.
Steve Yzerman is detemined to win the Stanley Cup before he retires.
"I don't give a damn if I score fifty goals or not. The only thing I want to do this year is to win."
One thing is certain: captain or not captain. Steve Yzerman will not be satisfied with himself until he gets to raise the Stanley Cup, the difference between an ordinary NHL player and a legend...