But there's little doubt a tough road strengthened their character while transforming them into the role models they are today to aspiring hockey players and fans worldwide. In a fitting tribute, their careers came full circle on Tuesday when the 18-member Hockey Hall of Fame committee announced that the one-time Detroit teammates would be immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Yzerman and Robitaille will join Brian Leetch and Brett Hull as inductees into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony slated for Nov. 9. New Jersey Devils President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello will join the four players in the builder category.
Robitaille was introduced by Pat Quinn, his former coach with the Kings, during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Quinn is co-chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame committee.
"It's so great to be named as an inductee by my first coach in the NHL," Robitaille said. "I was sitting here in my office when I got the call and when I saw the 416 area code, I figured it wasn't going to be bad news."
Yzerman said he was honored to be headed to the Hall alongside some of the greats of the game.
"This is such a tremendous honor because it's a great class of players and having Lou (Lamoriello) inducted (in the builder category) with us is something very special," he said. "I was in (Assistant General Manager) Jim Nill's office at the arena when I got the call from the Hall and we were actually discussing how we'd be able to get the team under the salary cap this year. It was a great surprise."
It's hard to fathom, but at one point during the remarkable 22-season career of Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman actually contemplated trading away his captain. Three Stanley Cups and one Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance later, it's safe to assume that move would have been the biggest mistake in franchise history.
"When I look back on it, that experience made me mentally stronger and it proved to me that I would be able to deal with adversity and come out of it a better player," Yzerman said of the trade that never was. "It was at a time when the Red Wings were trying to get over the hump and management was looking at every possible scenario at making changes to win a Stanley Cup, so I wasn't totally caught by surprise when it came out that I potentially could be moved. Every player was on pins and needles at the time but the experience I went through made me a better player in the end."
Then there's Robitaille, who prior to the 1984 Entry Draft was labeled a mediocre skater by many hockey experts. He lasted until the ninth round, when the Kings made him the 171st selection. As it turned out, "Lucky Luke" would become the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history with 1,394 points in 19 seasons.
Yzerman and Robitaille would ultimately cross paths in Detroit for a two-season stint and together they'd celebrate a Stanley Cup -- the 10th in team history -- in the spring of 2002.
"Having a guy like Stevie as captain was great just in the way he handled himself around us," Robitaille said. "You had 20 big egos coming in the room and everybody played a certain role for their team for years, so for Stevie to be able to understand our roles and share that one common goal is something I'll take for the rest of my career in whatever else I do."
Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe and Yzerman, who ranks eighth on the NHL's career list in goals (692), seventh in assists (1,063) and sixth in points (1,755), are recognized as the greatest players in Detroit history.
Steve Yzerman -- The 10-time NHL All-Star, who is currently Vice President/Alternate Governor of the Red Wings, won the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey (2002), an Olympic Gold medal with Canada (2002), the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward (2000) and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy as NHLPA's top player (1989).
Yzerman, chosen No. 4 by the Red Wings in 1983, also serves as executive director for Team Canada for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Since announcing his retirement in July 2006, Yzerman has been general manager for Team Canada at the 2007 and '08 World Championships. The Canadians captured gold in '07 and advanced to the championship game in '08, but settled for silver following an overtime loss to Russia.
"It's so great to be named as an inductee by my first coach in the NHL. I was sitting here in my office when I got the call and when I saw the 416 area code, I figured it wasn't going to be bad news." -- Luc Robitaille
In 22 seasons, Yzerman led Detroit in scoring 11 times and scored more than 100 points six times. He set franchise records for goals (65), assists (90) and points (155) in 1988-89. His five seasons of 50-plus goals are the most in Red Wings history, and he owns the three highest goal-scoring seasons in franchise history (65 in 1988-89; 62 in 1989-90; 58 in 1992-93). He is also the longest serving captain in NHL history -- beginning a 20-year reign in 1986-87 at the age of 21.
Luc Robitaille -- As a rookie in 1986-87, Robitaille became the first King to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year after posting 45 goals and 84 points. He was joined by fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky in 1988 and the pair helped lead the Kings to the club's first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. That season Robitaille, who served as captain, set NHL records for the most goals (63) by a left wing -- a mark that was surpassed by Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 -- and for most points (125) by a left wing, a mark that still stands.
Robitaille, who serves as the Kings' president of business operations, is an eight-time NHL All-Star. He's not only the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history, but ranks 10th on the all-time list in goals (668) and 20th in points (1,394). He and his wife, Stacia, are also the co-founders of two charitable organizations, Shelter for Serenity and Echoes of Hope.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.