Monday, July 03, 2006

The Captain

I cannot put into words what this means to me.

Today could be the day we find out about the future of Steve Yzerman.

And according to a report on TSN of Canada, he's expected to retire.

Yzerman, 41, has been Detroit's captain since 1986, making him the longest-serving captain in league history. He is one of the league's top all-time scorers and has led the Wings to 15 consecutive playoff appearances and three Stanley Cups.
Think about that. The longest serving captain in the history of the NHL. And three Stanley Cups to boot. By coincidence, somewhere around 1983 is when I started paying close attention to hockey. In other words, I have no recollection of a Red Wings team without Yzerman on it.

You wanna know the coolest thing about the Red Wings and the respect they pay to him? If you don’t follow hockey, each team has a captain and two alternates. On their jerseys, they wear a C and As respectively. On most teams, when the captain is injured or not playing that night, one of the As puts on a C and someone else will fill in with the other A. When Stevie goes down, the Wings field 3 As. Since Yzerman became captain 20 years ago, no one has had a C on a Red Wings jersey who wasn’t #19.

What was special about Steve Yzerman was more than leading our team for two decades, more than the 100+ point seasons, more than the three Stanley Cups. What was special about Yzerman was his class. When Scotty Bowman came aboard and insisted that Yzerman take a more defensive role, that’s exactly what he did, cutting his points in half, and becoming a better leader by example. When we win, he insists it was the team, and when we lose, he’ll take the heat. Never a showboat. Never a media whore. Just a humble man excelling at the sport he loved while trying to be a regular, albeit soft-spoken guy. He was one of those special players who when on the ice, raises the playing level of the entire team, despite perhaps not registering anything in the box score.

I will never forget our most recent Stanley Cup in 2002. He was literally on one leg, the other leg was useless. He had to prop himself up with his stick when he wasn’t skating. But when he was skating, he was the best player on the ice, leading the way to victory. After the season, they did complete reconstructive surgery on that knee. The doctor said that particular surgery had only been done on the very elderly in the past. Not on a professional athlete. Stevie worked to get back into shape, and sure enough led us to the playoffs the next two seasons, last season winning the President’s Cup as the best team in the league.

He is one of the greatest players ever to don the Winged Wheel; he is a hero; he is a superstar; he is a legend. But most of all, he will always be The Captain.

We’ll miss you, Stevie!

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