Wednesday, July 5

The Captain Retires

Still in a state of shock over here in New Fallujah. Not that Steve Yzerman's announcement came as a surprise --we knew he was 41, we knew his knees were bad (though he did fool us by out-playing those 15 years his junior as the best Wing on the ice during our disappointing series with Edmonton earlier this spring), we knew he had been considering retirement for years and it was inevitable. But I don't think it will really sink in until October, when I watch the first Wings game of the year and there's no #19 out there. No Stevie Y. It doesn't seem possible --he's been on the team for as long as I've watched the game and, no matter what the team did or how they played, won or lost, Stevie Y. never let us down. Not once.

For those of you unfamiliar, I highly encourage you to check out some of these links:
Blast from the past 1983 interview
Early years with the team
How he ranks among our all-time greats
A Captain moment

The Captain, as he is affectionately known here, inspires stories and memories in us all. For me, he was my first crush (admittedly why I started watching the sport which I eventually went on to play and coach --I mean, he looked like Johnny Depp and he played hockey --what more could you ask for?). And, aside from those entertaining bouts of the "Bruise Brothers," Stevie Y was the only thing about the Wings worth watching in the '80s. I remember always being bitter that he never got the recognition he deserved because he hadn't won a Cup and was competing against two of the greatest players of all time -that wimpy Wayne guy and Mario Lemieux. I remember how annoyed I was that he would never look into the camera when quietly being interviewed.

Then there was the emergence of the great team of the '90s. And finally, Stevie Y had what he deserved, what had in fact been built around him, and what continued to be inspired by him --he had a team that could finally, after so many long years, contend for the Cup. We in Hockeytown had been in a 42-year drought --the longest in NHL history. And do you know what my first thought was (and I'd guess the sentiment felt by many others around here) when we finally won it in '97? It wasn't --yea, we're the champions or anything like that. It was --Yes! Stevie finally got his much-deserved Cup! To see him hoist that trophey over his head that year was truly one of the greatest things I've ever seen in sports. Of course I remember where I was, who I was watching the game with --every detail-- and always will.

On a random Stevie Y note --this is my personal favorite Yzerman story. I was out in Boston, freshman year of college, inaugural season of the Fleet Center. The Wings were in town to play the Bruins and a good friend of mine said she'd go to the game with me. So after somehow managing to find trustworthy scalpers (Butchie and "Maaaak" --that's Bostonian for Mark), we had our tickets. I was getting much flack for my bright red #9 jersey (Bostonians seem to think Bobby Orr was better than Mr. Hockey, imagine...), but the crowd was rather genial seeing that the Bruins were winning 5-1 toward the end of the second period. At one point in the game, Yzerman got a penalty shot. He tried a certain deak; it didn't work. Well, I'll be darned if the Wings didn't come back in the 3rd to tie the game up 5-5. O.T. - Stevie Y. gets a breakaway. Does the same move he tried during the penalty shot, but this time it goes in. Wings win 6-5. What a game; what a guy.

There are so many other memories --how scared I was when his knee hit that goal post and we wondered if he'd ever be the same. I was at the game sitting down in the corner for a perfect view of him taking that puck that so very narrowly missed his eye. Earlier this year watching him score in overtime shootouts and how estatic we were because it was Stevie Y. scoring. I could go on, as could all of us who've known and loved him these past 23 years.

He will never be replaced, he will never be equaled. It wasn't just his skill or leadership qualities; he was truly a classy man that anyone could look up to, a true role model even for the non-athlete. The Wings will never be the same without Stevie Y., which is why we ardently hope to see him behind the bench as a coach before too long... And the sooner #19 hangs from the rafters, the better.

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