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Wings praise Yzerman for his qualities

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – His jersey hangs from the rafters at Joe Louis Arena, with the ‘C’ stitched into the upper-right corner. And while he’s no longer playing, his leadership still inspires his former teammates.

Steve Yzerman, now the Red Wings’ vice president, will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend, for his on-ice talent and leadership in the locker room.

Red Wings’ players discussed some of Yzerman’s qualities following Thursday’s morning skate.

“It was just a matter of time after we knew that he was going to retire that he was going to go straight to the Hall of Fame,” said Kirk Maltby, who played with Yzerman for 10 seasons. “To be able to have played with him and be able to see some of the things he was able to accomplish and do, and how he carried himself on and off the ice, I’m definitely a better person and hockey player because of it.”

Yzerman was the fourth overall draft pick in 1983, the first selection made by then-general manager Jimmy Devellano and new owners Mike and Marian Ilitch. He was named the Wings’ captain as a 21-year-old, then the youngest NHL player to assume that leadership role.

Yzerman’s 20 seasons of captaincy is the longest in NHL history.

“I had Steve for a captain for 15 years I believe,” current captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “He was a quiet leader, but he knew when to step-up and say the right things, or score the big goal on the ice, or play well when the team really needed him to. I try to do the same thing … lead by example on the ice.”

Yzerman’s leadership skills covered all the ages of his teammates. Henrik Zetterberg, who spent his first three seasons with Yzerman, said it was an honor to learn from one of the game’s best.

“It was a huge honor to have a chance to play with him, especially in (his) last few years,” Zetterberg said. “I sat next to him in the locker room.  I learned a lot from him on and off the ice.  He always gave it his all, he was a huge inspiration for me and I will always remember him.”

Zetterberg, who is expected to be next in line for leading the Wings, said that Yzerman’s quiet leadership was complemented by his ability to perform when it mattered most.

“I think he always showed (leadership) on the ice,” Zetterberg said. “He was never big on speaking, but when he said something, everybody listened, and it was always the right words.  He always stepped up when we needed him in big games, whether the situation was defense or offense, he was always able to come through.”

Kris Draper spent 12 seasons alongside Yzerman, and what he remembers most was his captain’s drive to succeed.

“Just seeing how he competed and how intense he was, that’s something I will never forget,” Draper said. “Just being around him day in and day out, just the way he carried himself and the way he was to his teammates … he was always a true gentleman. I think a guy like Stevie has impacted a lot of us, especially the younger guys he played with.  I was very fortunate to be able to play with him for so many years and I think he’s had a real big impact, not only on my career, but the person I have become.”

Coach Mike Babcock arrived in Detroit in time to coach Yzerman for his final NHL season.  Babcock said that Yzerman always acts with respect and integrity for the sport. 

“Honest, understood what was going on, no fluff,” Babcock said. “Even today when I communicate with him as a friend or a colleague, he’s very respectful of the game, of players in the game, of coaches in the game, what’s important, understands what you need to do to win. Take no prisoners in telling guys what they had to do to be successful as a player.  I think he’s been fantastic.  He helped me as a coach, and now I’m fortunate to work him with the Olympic program.”

Babcock said that Yzerman’s Hall of Fame induction is even more special because Yzerman spent his entire career in Hockeytown.

“I think it’s real special for Steve to go into the Hall with one logo,” Babcock said, “having played for one team and being the captain forever, and being involved in Stanley Cups and the tradition, to me, that’s got to be very special.”

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