Yes, no doubt it’s been a long time since I’ve updated here, but with Steve Yzerman being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame I felt the need to write about not just my favorite player in hockey but in ANY sport.
Anyone that watches sports on a regular basis will always have their favorite teams to root for and players to follow. If they’re lucky they’ll see those favorites achieve great success over a long period of time; it may not always happen because no matter how hard working or honest a player or team may be, no championship is ever guaranteed because of it–as a Detroit Lions fan I’ve seen more than a few that played here that due to circumstances beyond their control never got a taste of a championship game.
For fans of the Detroit Red Wings though, one person became the face of the team pretty much from the time he was drafted all the way back in 1983 up until his last game in the Spring of 2006: Steve Yzerman. You could say either Stevie Y., The Captain, #19 and anyone in Detroit would automatically know just exactly who was being talked about–a humble, hard working, and all around classy human being. A majority of fans grew up while watching his career unfold, myself included; from the tough first few years when the Red Wings were known more as the ‘Dead Things’, when he’d try to outscore the team on his own. Got their first taste of real playoff success in 1987, making it to the Campbell Conference Finals before getting knocked out by Wayne Gretzky and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers juggernaut (that’d be grade school for me). Fast forward to the early and mid-90’s where the Red Wings are now perennial playoff contenders, but just couldn’t put it all together to get those tough 16 wins in the postseason (high school and some college life). The legendary Scotty Bowman, coach of the Red Wings since the start of the 1993 season, convinced Yzerman that for the Red Wings to ultimately make that big leap he’d need to become a two-way player; always known for his offense, The Captain made the adjustment–and since he was The Captain, the team followed. Probably my greatest memory was seeing Stevie lift that Stanley Cup over his head in 1997, a scene only 14 years in the making. Then all of us in Detroit got to see him and the rest of the Red Wings do it again in 1998, and then again in 2002. Until 2002, many of us probably took #19 for granted, just assuming that he’d be around forever…right until the stories of that postseason push for the Cup came about. Turns out Stevie Y. had been playing on one leg throughout the entire playoffs and would need surgery to repair his knee. Then and only then (at 29, I’d been watching him for almost 20 years at that point!) did I start to think, ‘Wow, it’s been fun but we might not have him around to watch much longer.’ But he continued on anyway, right up until that Game 6 first round elimination at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers; at that point I think we all knew that seeing him skate off the ice it’d be the last time. I hoped it wouldn’t be (I’m sure a lot of us in Detroit did), but in late June or early July of 2006 his career as a player was over.
The Red Wings gave Steve Yzerman the highest honor of retiring his number just a few short months later, and then on November 9th, 2009 the NHL inducted The Captain into the Hockey Hall of Fame (along with Brett Hull, Lou Lamoriello, Brian Leetch, and Luc Robataille). It was all well deserved, and as usual the class act we’d all gotten to see in Detroit for years and years was just the same in his induction speech: even though the ceremony was about him and his accomplishments, his speech was about everyone else that helped him get there and helped him stay there.
Now there are a ton of other blogs and articles that have written all about Steve Yzerman, and I’m not ashamed to say better than I am capable of (some I’d recommend are at Kukla’s Corner in a post written by IwoCPO, and also another article written by Christy over at Winging It In Motown). I still felt the need to write about it anyway because, like I said at the beginning, he’s my favorite player in ANY sport. Thank you, #19, for being an absolute joy to watch and cheer for!
So now I turn the question to you: what’s your favorite Steve Yzerman memory? For that matter, if you weren’t or aren’t a Stevie Y. fan (gasp!), who is your favorite player and what’s your favorite memory of that player?