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Gordie Howe

Yzerman pays tribute to 'Mr. Hockey'

Lightning GM: When 'people talk about the Red Wings, they talk about Gordie Howe'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- No one could fill Gordie Howe's skates, not even Steve Yzerman.

But Yzerman once filled Howe's shin pads.

Early in his career with the Detroit Red Wings, Yzerman went to a charity game with Howe in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were putting on their gear when Yzerman realized he had forgotten something.

"He just said, 'Here, go ahead. You wear my shin pads,'" Yzerman said. "So Gordie gave me his shin pads, and I don't even think he played. I wore Gordie's shin pads, and he just left."

Yzerman carried them around all summer, returned them to Howe in the fall and said thank you.

"I got to wear his shin pads," Yzerman said. "Not too many guys can say that."

Yzerman had a special relationship with Howe, who died Friday at age 88 and was honored Tuesday with a visitation at Joe Louis Arena. Yzerman met Howe when he was 18, a Red Wings rookie, and got to know him over the years while becoming a legend in his own right. He also played with Howe's son Mark, and worked with him in the Red Wings front office.

Howe, Ted Lindsay and other Red Wings greats had a huge influence on the young Yzerman.

"Being a player in Detroit, you'd see the former Red Wing players, and these are Hall of Fame guys and some of the best players to ever play in the League, and you'd walk around this building and bump into them," Yzerman said. "If you didn't know them, you couldn't tell if they were the Zamboni driver or a hot dog salesman by the way they conducted themselves.

"They were very humble guys, very polite and very respectful. That's the way they all were. They were from kind of a different era, and they kind of set the tone for what it meant to play here and how a Red Wing should act."

Yzerman loved to listen to Howe and the others.

"If you got the chance to talk to him, he'd relate stories about when they played, and [it was] really enlightening to hear some of the stories of things they went through," Yzerman said. "You have a vision of the way they were, the way they played and acted and whatnot, and they'd talk to you about their teammates and situations they were in.

"Usually they were all very humorous and lighthearted. It really helped you kind of keep things in perspective, whether you were struggling or losing. Played a long time, so he had lots of things to share with you."

Even though he is now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Yzerman is known as "The Captain" in Detroit. But there was one "Mr. Hockey."

"Wherever I go, whether it's anywhere in the world, and people talk about the Red Wings, they talk about Gordie Howe," Yzerman said. "They really do. Go anywhere and people from Gordie's generation, how they got into hockey, why they became Red Wing fans, was because of Gordie Howe."

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