Breaking up is hard to do. Sometimes it’s even worse with sports icons and their fans. But that’s what fans of the Detroit Red Wings are going through, saying goodbye to the beloved Steve Yzerman.
After some speculation in recent weeks, Yzerman is on his way to sunny Tampa after it became clear that Ken Holland was going to get a contract extension. And I don’t think there is any Red Wings fan that can be upset with that. What Holland has done since becoming G.M in 1998 has been downright astonishing. Producing three cups under his tenure, one of them being under a cap, there really is not a better G.M. in the business. It wouldn’t make much sense to give him the boot and replace him with Yzerman no matter how revered he is.
Still, watching him go is tough to do. Since 1983, he has been the heart and soul of the Wings. Jim Devellano, who was the wings current G.M. at the time, wanted Pat Lafontaine but when the Islanders snatched him up, Yzerman fell to the Wings. Preparing to send him back to Peterborough for the year, the Wings quickly changed their minds after one training camp. He rewarded them with a stellar rookie season of 39 goals and 87 points and finishing second in the Calder voting.
In the '86 season, Coach Demers slapped the “C” on Yzerman’s chest, making him the youngest captain ever at the time. It may have been the best decision Demars ever made. He would follow his promotion with a 65 goal campaign in '88 and 62 goals in '89.
Yzerman showed class, grit, determination and leadership. Yet, his best quality was his unselfish nature. Already an offensively gifted forward, the arrival of Scotty Bowman could have sent Yzerman packing. Bowman wanted his forwards to play defense as well as offensive and he wanted the captain to lead the way. Somebody with the scoring prowess of Stevie could have said forget it and flew the perch. But being the selfless player he was, he adopted to Bowman methods. The fact that the other players on the team followed suit is a testament to Yzerman leadership and respect he had from his teammates.
His selfless attitude paid off. Three times in fact. And no one deserved to lift those Cups more than Stevie. He stayed with the teams through the hardest of times, such as the bitter loss to the Devils in '95 as well as the loss to the Avalanche after the Wings set the single season wins record in '96. His loyalty was unmatched, even surpassing the great Ray Bourque who eventually left for Colorado for a chance at his elusive cup.
Not having Yzerman as an executive will not be what the Wing will miss. He gave Detroit more on the ice than he did in the front office. It will simply be the matter of Yzerman not being in Detroit. The team and city will feel naked without him and one has to wonder how it will feel if they ever win a Cup without him present. Stevie gave us some wonderful moments. Mine will always be the blast from the blue line that beat St. Louis in double O.T. in 1996. The shot immortalized him forever. But even more than the memories, he gave the city of Detroit a reason to believe. As long as Stevie was there, with his leadership on the ice and in the locker room, you knew you always had a chance to win.
There may never be a more respected and cherished figure in Hockey town again. Thanks for the memories Stevie Y. Hope to see you again sometime.