>Goodbye Steve Yzerman (July 06 Manistee News Advocate)

Posted: August 2, 2006 in Columns

>I knew it was coming, but the shock was still staggering. As I picked up a copy of the Detroit Free Press on July 4th, the enormous two-inch headline informed me that my childhood idol, Steve Yzerman, had retired. I hate to admit it, being a full grown man, but my eyes were moist and my throat tightened a bit as I read the many tributes to this Motor City hero.Stevie Y came to play for the Red Wings at the age of 18, only 5 years older than I was back in 1983. I would watch hockey faithfully with my dad back then, learning the names and positions of all the Wings, and cheering for our hometown boys despite their dismal performance year-in and year-out. When I started to play hockey myself a few years later on the frozen lakes and ponds of Oakland County, and in the wee hours of the night at a Frasier hockey rink with a group of friends who had formed a hockey club, we would emulate the scoring plays of number 19. One of the guys would float a pass to me, and I’d hammer it in, raise my arms and shout “Yzerman with the one-timer!” I never would have imagined that 22 years later, I would coach and play hockey with my son and he would make the same exclamation after a particularly well-placed shot into the back of the net. Yzerman came to Detroit during what we suburban-Detroiters call the “Dead Wings era.” During this time, Stevie Y was the entire franchise — as the Wings failed time and time again to advance in the playoffs. We were and always have been loyal fans, though, and faithfully followed the fortunes of our hometown team. While other players came and went, The Captain, was a constant fixture, his name synonymous with Red Wing hockey, and hockey in general. Without him, Detroit never would have become “Hockey Town.” And without him, the Wings would not have brought the Stanley Cup back to Detroit after a drought of 42 years. Only the ‘84 World Series win by the Tigers brought as much pride and excitement to the motor city as winning that cup. But the Detroit Red Wings were more than a mere hockey team after winning the cup in 1997, they were now a franchise, winning it again two more times under the leadership of Yzerman, and remaining a force to be reckoned with year after year in the regular season and in the playoffs.What can you say about an athlete whose longevity and influence allowed him to serve as a role model for both me and my son? We will likely never again witness a player who stays with one team for his entire career, let alone a 22-year career. We may never see another captain who serves for 19 straight seasons. This really is an end to an important era for Detroit sports fans.It is difficult to imagine a Red Wing team without number 19 on the roster. He was a somber, quiet leader; modest, and unassuming. He led by example, playing with his heart and with sheer determination, even when his body failed him. He endured a broken collarbone, several injuries and surgeries on his knee, and nearly lost an eye to an errant puck, but he continued to play with the same level of determination while providing the same unparalleled leadership to his team. It will not be his playing ability that is lost, as much as it will be his sheer presence in the lockerroom and on the ice.Yzerman has served as a role model to sports fans and non sports fans alike. At the age of 5, he decided he wanted to play in the NHL, and not only did he achieve this goal, but he became one of the most beloved hockey players of all time, playing for one of the greatest sports franchises of all time, becoming the youngest captain in their history at the tender age of 21, and remaining so for the rest of his career — a career that included three Stanley Cup wins, 10 All-Star team appearances, and an Olympic gold medal for his native Canada.But, I suppose, hockey will go on. Wings head coach Mike Babcock said it best, “You can’t replace Steve Yzerman.” Somehow, though, we will become accustomed to seeing the familiar “C” on the jersey of another player — perhaps Nicklas Lidstrom — and we will watch in awe the amazing accomplishments of another Red Wing center, like Henrik Zetterberg. The comparisons will always be there, though. Whoever Stevie Y passes the gauntlet to will forever live in his shadow, constantly working to prove themselves worthy to play for the team that Steve built, through his leadership and determination and grit; through his example of exemplary play and good sportsmanship.Yes, somehow, we will drag ourselves out of bed this fall, face the inevitability that number 19 has moved on, and learn to embrace this new era of Red Wings hockey. We can still keep Steve Yzerman in our hearts and in our memories, though, and imagine ourselves as the captain when we put the puck into an improvised net on the frozen pond, at a game at the local rink, or even in the driveway. No time would have been the “right time” for him to go as far as I’m concerned, but I understand that it is time –too many injuries, and too many miles — and I reflect fondly on all the years he has given us, and the inspiration he has provided to scores of young and old fans alike. Thanks, captain. Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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