By Alyssa Girardi –
DETROIT — As Red Wings greats filed out of the Detroit Tigers’ dugout for the Hockeytown Winter Festival’s Alumni Showdown, each was met by a chorus of cheers and applause.
Fans remembered the poised defense of captain Niklas Lidstrom, the physical style of Darren McCarty and the agility of Russian Five member Sergei Fedorov.
But when the last name was called, the crowd cheered a little bit louder. Even those wearing the opposing Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys had to stand up.
“The Captain, number 19, Steve Yzerman.”
And “The Captain” is exactly what thousands of Detroit fans always will remember him by. After serving as the Red Wings captain for two decades, Yzerman is the anchor for memories of winning seasons, conference titles and three Stanley Cups.
He finished his playing career on May 1, 2006, a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs, and Tuesday’s alumni game was the first time he’s stepped on the ice in a Red Wings jersey since then.
“For the Red Wings fans, they love all the players, especially the guys who played through the Stanley Cup years,” Yzerman said. “It’s a special place for all the athletes who play here. It’s a good place to be an athlete.”
Yzerman was a late addition for the game, given the current amount of work on his plate. He serves as general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and was named executive director of Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics. In the upcoming week, he will narrow down the Canadian roster of players to send to Sochi, Russia.
But when it was announced on Dec. 10 that he would be returning for the alumni game, the news was met by a warm reception from fans and players alike. And after being asked about the number of people who bought tickets to see him in skates again, Yzerman reverted to his reserved, humble demeanor.
“Well, they get no refunds,” he said with a laugh. “I did my best, let’s put it that way. I enjoyed it. It’s been a tremendous time here. I enjoy coming back and being apart of things when I can. I’m very appreciative of how I’ve been treated and my family’s been treated in Detroit.”
The longest-serving captain in NHL history said he didn’t have time to skate much before the game, and while players’ conditioning levels weren’t what they once were, the locker room atmosphere hadn’t changed.
Old teammates from around the world gathered in the Tigers clubhouse, some seeing each other for the first time in decades, and Yzerman said they picked up right where they left off — just “a little bit heavier (with) a little thinner hair.”
Though he never found his way onto the scoresheet and played only a handful of shifts, Detroit fans in a snowy Comerica Park warmly welcomed The Captain back to Hockeytown in his famed number 19 jersey.
“Just like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio being here, he’s an icon,” longtime teammate Chris Chelios said. “Working for Tampa, he kinda had second thoughts about it, but he always does the right thing. The Captain — I mean, you hear the fans. He enjoyed it a lot more than he thought he was going to.”
As Chelios noted, Yzerman simply had to be there.