Monday, September 04, 2006

"Lazzari's Sports Roundup" ---- 09-09-06

Yes, this summer's excitement in the city of Detroit has surely centered on the Tigers, and deservedly so--a team having surpassed everyone's expectations under new manager Jim Leyland. Kind of lost in all this giddiness over the past couple of months--at least in areas not within earshot of Motown--was the retirement of "The Captain," Steve Yzerman. But I'm guessing the modest Red Wing great would have it no other way.

I suppose a guy whose name starts with the letters "Yz" was destined to be unique. He did it the "right" way, folks--like very few others have. The "right" way, you may ask? Well, maybe I should call it the "ideal" way--how he made his mark in hockey history in the most humble of ways; we almost didn't notice at times. Perhaps it's because he played in the era of hockey greats such as Gretzky, Messier, Roy, and Lemieux--headliners whose greatness was a bit more publicized; I'm sure Yzerman didn't mind. Maybe Steve was just too darn consistent--on the verge of fostering boredom; these days, the media seems to have a skewed fascination with those sports personalities who conduct themselves in an edgier, more unpredictable manner. Steve Yzerman was always known as a soft-spoken guy; ironically, his accomplishments--when looked at closely from this day forward--will speak rather loudly regarding this man's place in the history of professional hockey.

Here are the numbers: 1,514 regular season games, 692 goals, 1,063 assists for a total of 1,755 career points--good enough for sixth all-time on the NHL scoring list. He scored 70 goals and had 115 assists in Stanley Cup playoff competition ALONE. Then there's the remarkable, six-season stretch between 1987 and 1993 where he toppled the 100-point mark each year. Ah, yes, the "C" sewn on the man's jersey not only signified his status as captain; it surely seems to have alluded to "consistency" on his part, also.

He was a 10-time All-Star, won the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1989 (outstanding player as chosen by his playing colleagues), and is a Conn Smythe Trophy winner (playoffs MVP); he dons three Stanley Cup championship rings--having been highly responsible for taking the Red Wings from relative obscurity to the pinnacle of the hockey world. He's been honored for his sportsmanship among his peers. Oh, and a gold medal hangs among his most prized possessions--Steve having been an integral member of the Canadian team that stood among others at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Ask any player who played with Yzerman about the one individual who kept his team (both the Canadian Olympic squad AND the Red Wings) playing as a cohesive unit; they'll be sure to answer, "The Captain"--who led more by example than by an "in-your-face" motivational style.

Put all the numbers aside; what makes yours truly one of Steve Yzerman's most awe-struck supporters is that he played a remarkable 22 NHL seasons WITH THE SAME TEAM. Yeah, the man had loyalty--in the respectable mode of athletes like George Brett, Cal Ripken, Jr., and others who showed an obvious allegiance to the SOLE organization that proudly employed them their entire careers. In fact, Yzerman may truly be the last of a dying (perhaps dead) breed--that special athlete who decides NOT to "jump ship" when dollar signs sadly replace the pupils in one's eyes. Yep, Yzerman was the guy who reworked his contract so the team could bring in other players--all in the interest of WINNING. One more piece of evidence to cement this guy's integrity and uniqueness: Yzerman was the NHL's longest-serving captain--donning the "C" on his uniform for an unheard-of 20 seasons.

Steve Yzerman battled very serious injuries over his last few NHL campaigns; he knew his time had come this summer as he doubted his former physical gifts would ever return and allow him to perform at the high level he had always expected of himself. His greatness is also apparent due to the fact that many current NHL players--stars included--consider Yzerman their idol; they could not have picked a more appropriate man to look up to as Steve's consistency and integrity extended far beyond the hockey rinks of North America.

"The Captain" will see his #19 jersey raised to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena early in 2007 in what Red Wings Senior VP Jimmy Devellano is calling an "extravaganza"; I'm sure Steve will simply thank others in the same selfless way that has defined his being. His will be the sixth retired number in franchise history as his name will now stand alongside the likes of Detroit hockey greats such as Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. Thanks, Steve Yzerman, for having done it the "right way." I'm honored to say that I witnessed a respected athlete who truly handled himself both on AND off the athletic stage like few others ever have--or ever will.

Bob Lazzari

Reprinted by permission of the Valley Times.


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