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Yzerman still a Detroit idol to current Wings

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- Still hanging in his room back at his parents' home in Muskegon, Mich., is one of Justin Abdelkader's favorite posters from his childhood.

It's framed and it's been there since he was 10 years old in 1997 -- the year the Detroit Red Wings won their first of four Stanley Cups in the modern era, led by "The Captain" Steve Yzerman.

Nearly 15 years later, Abdelkader plays for the Red Wings and will be in uniform on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena when Yzerman makes his first return to Detroit since becoming the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning in May 2010. It's sure to be a special game for Yzerman, Abdelkader and pretty much anybody who was a Red Wings fan for the last 20 years.


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"I definitely followed him and the career he had," said Abdelkader, who will center Detroit's fourth line against the Lightning. "He was always a fun player to watch and always led his team on the ice. I remember seeing him in the playoffs when he was playing injured and playing on one leg. His knee was really bothering him and you could see the pain he was in, but he just kept battling through it and kind of helped his team muscle through the playoffs. I was a huge fan, for sure."

Like a lot of people his age, Abdelkader doesn't even remember a time in his life when the Red Wings weren't very good. Yzerman is a big reason for that, after coming to Detroit as the Wings' top pick in the 1983 NHL Draft (No. 4) and seizing the captain's "C" on his sweater in 1986.

He almost instantly made the lowly Red Wings competitive again and played long enough to watch the team transform into a dynasty of sorts. The current rendition of the Wings, in a way, is just keeping the snowball going that Yzerman helped start before guys like Abdelkader were even born.

"We've all been spoiled with the success they've had (over the years)," Abdelkader said. "It was a combination of things responsible for it, but to have the face of your franchise and the captain as good as he was and as good of a leader as he was, kind of set the tone for everything."

That part of Red Wings history isn't lost on other Wings players, either. Center Darren Helm, for instance, actually grew up rooting for Joe Sakic and Detroit's nemesis for many of the Yzerman years -- the Colorado Avalanche.

Still, even Helm realizes just how special Yzerman's career was to the city of Detroit and the Red Wings as an organization.

"I hear some stories about how he was a young guy coming in and getting the 'C' right away and how some players weren't too happy about it," Helm said. "But he made a difference and I think he turned the team around and kind of got 'em going into the winning team that we are today. Obviously he had a lot to do with it."

And that's why, if Yzerman is shown on the video screen on Wednesday night, he will likely get a loud ovation from Red Wings fans along with stick taps from players on both teams. Abdelkader said he'll definitely give a tap, simply to say thanks to the guy known around Detroit as simply "The Captain."

"They'll probably show him at some point tonight and I think he'll deservedly get an ovation from the crowd," Abdelkader said. "I think the whole bench will kind of give him a stick tap for sure ... just for what he's done for this organization."
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