VANCOUVER – They are separated in age by almost 40 years, but when it comes to hockey in Canada there aren't many degrees of separation between the three recipients of the 2014 Order of Hockey in Canada that were announced on Wednesday morning.
Steve Yzerman, Clare Drake and France St-Louis were named the 2014 class of "Distinguished Honorees of the Order of Hockey in Canada," a program started by Hockey Canada to annually recognize "extraordinary" service to the sport. And it didn't take long to find common bonds between Drake, an 86-year-old coach, St-Louis, a 55-year-old long-time star on Canada's women's team, and Yzerman, the 48-year-old general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Drake provided a common bond through a coaching career spanning 28 seasons and 697 wins at the University of Alberta, as well as stints as an assistant with the Winnipeg Jets from 1989 to 1991, the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association in 1975-76, and time with both the Canadian men's and women's national programs.
For Yzerman, the connection comes through Canadian Olympic team and Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
"I've actually had several conversations regarding Clare with Mike Babcock," said Yzerman, who won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings over 22 NHL seasons and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. "Drake is someone I know Mike has tremendous respect for and someone he looked up incredibly to throughout his coaching career and you see the success he has had."
Babcock isn't the only NHL coach Drake impacted.
"Clare Drake has done so much for coaching in this country," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. "When he was at the University of Alberta he mentored Dave King, George Kingston, Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock, Tom Renney -- the list goes on and on."
St-Louis, who won five gold medals with Canada at the IIHF World Women's Championship, remembered Drake from his work with Canada's national women's team in the early 1990s.
"So impressed with his insight and experiences," St-Louis said. "He was an esteemed expert and we all looked up to him."
Drake's willingness to share that knowledge with younger coaches is what stuck out for Yzerman, who was praised by Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson for his mentorship role since becoming a manager.
"There are so many resources for us to learn from, to get better from," Yzerman said. "Cooperation from different eras and different backgrounds, the entire Canadian hockey program improves because of all the great communication of all the people that have led to Canada's success through the history of hockey."
Their roles in continuing that history played a role in Yzerman, Drake and St-Louis being named to the Order of Hockey in Canada, joining the initial induction class of Jean Beliveau, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Gordon Renwick in 2012, and the 2013 class of Paul Henderson, Dave King and Mark Messier.
The 2014 class will be honored formally at a June gala in Vancouver.
"The Order of Hockey in Canada isn't about goals and assists," Nicholson said. "It's about people that make a difference in the game."
Yzerman is in the top 10 in League history with 692 goals (ninth), 1,063 assists (seventh) and 1,755 points (sixth). He won a handful of individual awards, including the 1998 Conn Smythe Trophy, and played in 10 NHL All-Star Games. Yzerman's 20 seasons as Red Wings captain is also the longest in League history, and Nicholson said he has continued to lead since moving into the front office.
"Sather says Steve has become a mentor to young GMs coming into the League," Nicholson said. "We've seen that with Steve at the 2010 Olympic team in Vancouver and (2007, 2008 and 2013) men's World Championships. He has grown as a leader off the ice now."
St-Louis, a Montreal native, won silver at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and captained Canada's women's team in 1992 and 1994, winning goal medals at the 3 Nations Cup and Pacific Rim Tournaments.
"She is seen as the Jean Béliveau of female hockey," Nicholson said.
St-Louis was recently named assistant chef de mission for Canada's Olympic Team at the upcoming 2014 Sochi Olympics, and has worked as a coach mentor for France's national women's team.
"When you receive a call from Bob Nicholson it might be good or bad news, but for me I was very happy to hear it," she said. "I realize how fortunate I am to be part of such an impressive group."
Yzerman got his call Tuesday from Sather.
"It was a thrill for me to get the call from Glen, someone who was a very prominent when I first entered the NHL in 1983," he said. "I've loved being part of Hockey Canada as a player and part of management throughout my career, and this is very special to enter in, not only with Clare and France, but also the previous inductees."
Drake led Alberta to six Canadian University championships during a career that began in 1955-56 and ended with retirement after the 1988-89 season. He also coached Canada at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and to a title at the 1984 Spengler Cup.
"I follow the work of Hockey Canada quite closely and I know the effort that so many people have put into the development of the game and I guess I am considered one of them," Drake said. "I feel humbled about that. It's a very big honor for me."