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Notes: Former Wings teammates welcome Yzerman back to Detroit

Holland puts team first; Zetterberg feeling good after not playing this past season

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- When new Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman looked out at the crowd of reporters and Wings employees Friday afternoon, he spotted some familiar faces.

Several of Yzerman's former teammates, a few of whom he will be working with in hockey operations, were present as the Wings introduced Yzerman as their new executive vice president and general manager.

Kris Draper, assistant to the general manager, Jiri Fischer, director of player evaluation, Darren McCarty, Dino Ciccarelli and Henrik Zetterberg all came to welcome Yzerman back home to Detroit.

"When I came here and walked through Joe Louis Arena, walked past Gordie Howe in the hall, Ted Lindsay in the hall, Sid Abel, see Alex Delvecchio, these guys are some of the greatest players in the history of the game and obviously in this organization," Yzerman said. "It's one of the unique things about an Original Six franchise. Now, as I've come back, I get a chance to see guys I played with.

"We go off in different directions in our careers, with our families. We're all from different countries but guys are still around, got a chance to see Dino and Mac (McCarty)and Henrik is here and Kris (Draper) is working in the organization. These are guys, they grew up with me. They're my friends, it's really nice to see them here. This organization has a lot of history."

Draper had a broad smile on his face as he talked about bringing Yzerman back into the fold.

"I think the amazing thing is we're bringing in one of the greatest players to play our game and obviously one of the greatest Red Wings to play our game," Draper said. "When you sit there and you listen, you can hear the passion that he has of where he wants to get the Detroit Red Wings back to. Same as Stevie, very fortunate to play with those teams. That's the passion that he has, the determination that he had as a player and obviously as a general manager. That's why he's had the success in Tampa and that's exactly what he's going to bring to the Detroit Red Wings. For anyone in Hockeytown, in our organization and fans of the Detroit Red Wings, it's a great day."

Of course, one of the best parts of being teammates is you can make fun of each other to keep things loose throughout a long season.

Yzerman was no stranger to the practice, especially with guys like McCarty, who could take it as well as dish it out.

"He's been busting my (chops) since day one. I've been telling everyone that it took me three years to stop crying to realize he picked on me because he liked me," McCarty said. "People always say, 'what makes a guy like Steve Yzerman a great leader?' Well you have to remember, just because you have talent doesn't mean you're a great leader. Stevie alluded to it during his press conference - you shouldn't judge his executive career based on his playing career, but you look at what he's put in. He's put the time in, he's been mentored by two of the greatest (Ken Holland and Jim Devellano) and he'll still be working (to get better)."

Locker assignments in the Wings dressing room are not haphazard. Young players usually find themselves sitting next to wily veterans who can provide advice or just an example of how to be a good pro.

When Zetterberg arrived in Detroit, his locker at Joe Louis Arena was right next to Yzerman's.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking from the start when I walked in and I saw my number next to him," Zetterberg said. "Looking back to it, I didn't realize back then what that meant. I think just sitting close to him, through practice, games, how he'd prepare, it was special and obviously meant a lot for the future of my career. Seeing him coming back as the GM obviously makes me happy."

Like Zetterberg, Fischer said he was a bit in awe of Yzerman when he joined the team as a young player right after the Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997-98.

But Fischer said Yzerman was very welcoming, helpful and caring, never more so than the night of Nov. 21, 2005.

That was the night Fischer went into cardiac arrest on the bench and was rushed to the hospital after Dr. Tony Colucci, the team doctor, was able to resuscitate him.

"When I woke up in the hospital in the emergency room, there was small groups from the team that were coming in to visit and it was the Ilitches, Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Steve, they were all in the first group," Fischer recalled. "People really reveal their own character every time there's a lot of chaos, every time there's a lot of adversity, every time there's a disaster strike. So when my cardiac arrest happened, I don't think people know exactly what to say to the patient, but Steve was in the first group, they were there for me and that's what really matters the most."

PRAISE FOR HOLLAND: Red Wings owner, governor and CEO Chris Ilitch was not the only one to acknowledge Holland for his unselfishness on Friday.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Detroit #RedWings Governor, President and CEO Christopher Ilitch on Ken Holland.

Holland had served 22 years as the Red Wings general manager but agreed that he would move to a different role as senior vice president so Yzerman could return to be the GM.

"A lot of people say it, that they want to do what's best for the organization. They say it over and over again," Draper said. "To me, Ken acted. That just speaks volumes to how he truly cares about the Ilitch family and the Red Wing organization. When you have the opportunity to add Steve Yzerman as your general manager, does it sound right that he's a Detroit Red Wing? Yeah."

For Zetterberg, Holland is the only general manager he has ever known.

"First, having Stevie coming back home, it is special but in the same way, we have to acknowledge Ken Holland for what he's done for this organization," Zetterberg said. "For me, having him on my side for my career, I have a lot to thank him for. Rebuild is hard but everyone goes through it. I think Steve is probably the only one who could take over from Kenny. And the nice thing is, as we heard today, they were all involved."

As Devellano did for Holland, moving into a different role so Holland could be the general manager, that is what Holland wanted to do for Yzerman.

"He has had a phenomenal tenure here in Detroit," Yzerman said. "He is extremely well-respected by his peers throughout the league, not only respected but liked and admired for the way he treats people and the way he deals with all different situations. For me, he has been a teammate way back in the day, he has been a scout for this organization, my general manager. He has been a great friend and he has been my mentor. I learned so much, not only as a player playing for him, but in our conversations when I retired and I spent four incredibly enjoyable and worthwhile years in management, learning, listening. It was an invaluable education for me. It really set me up well to go off on my own to become a general manager down in Tampa.

"I'm incredibly grateful for his humility, his selflessness, his people management skills and I've learned from his incredible work ethic and passion for the game. I'm very excited to be back working with Kenny in this role. I'm glad that he's here and I will be relying heavily on his expertise and opinions."

ZETTERBERG UPDATE: After struggling with his injured back through the second half of the 2017-18 season, Zetterberg was told by doctors before training camp that he risked more serious injury if he continued to play.

Zetterberg looked healthy on Friday at Little Caesars Arena after sitting out the entire season on long-term injured reserve.

Tweet from @BradGalli: Henrik Zetterberg is in the room, which means everybody else inside the room is competing for next-best-dressed.

"I'm well," Zetterberg said. "It's been a good year. I probably got out in the right time. I still have my struggles once in awhile but overall, health-wise it's probably the best I've felt in many years."

Zetterberg and his wife, Emma, and son, Love, remained in Detroit this past season and will soon head back to Sweden for the summer.

Asked if he believed Yzerman could restore the Wings back to their Cup-winning ways, Zetterberg expressed confidence.

"I know I'll be here when that happens," Zetterberg said.

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