Young Wings fan has dream come true in meeting Yzerman
Tyler and his family will also get to visit Little Caesars Arena next monthby Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com
TRAVERSE CITY -- Young Tyler of Gaylord, Mich., had just one wish -- to meet Steve Yzerman.
The Detroit Red Wings and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan were happy to make that happen on Saturday at Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City during the NHL Prospect Tournament as the Wings beat the St. Louis Blues.
Tyler started skating at age 3 and wanted to grow up to be a hockey player.
But that plan was derailed in high school when he broke his neck in a non-hockey accident and suffered a spinal cord injury that paralyzed him.
So when Yzerman, the Wings executive vice president and general manager, walked down the stairs for the first intermission, you couldn't wipe the smile off Tyler's face.
Yzerman chatted with Tyler and his dad, Joe, throughout the intermission and into the second period.
Yzerman also brought other staff members, who were once his teammates, to meet Tyler, including Kris Draper, the director of amateur scouting, Jiri Fischer, associate director of player personnel, and Kirk Maltby, a pro scout.
But Tyler did not hesitate when he was asked his favorite part of the day.
"Meeting Steve," he said. "He's great." Although still quite young, Tyler said he remembered a lot about Yzerman as a player.
"His skill and his heart. A lot of heart," Tyler said. "When he talked, everybody listened. He was a great leader and a great player."
Yzerman was a little surprised that Tyler remembered so much and said he enjoyed their time together.
"I've been gone a long time so I don't get as many requests," Yzerman said. "I guess as I was kind of near the end of my career, he would remember a little bit. It was really a pleasure meeting him."
For Joe, it was heartwarming to see his son light up around Yzerman, even if it took him a minute to get over being starstruck.
"Once we started talking about stuff, he did pretty good," Joe said. "It was awesome. I figured five minutes or something like that but no, he was out there for half an hour. Then he started to get the other guys."
"They're great, too," Tyler said.
Yzerman also invited Tyler and his family to come to Little Caesars Arena for the Oct. 12 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game that Draper, a Toronto native, always said he looked forward to as a player.
"(Yzerman) told me a lot," Tyler said. "He said we'll talk more when I go down there. He told me about the prospects they have here, about the organization."
Joe said they were overwhelmed by the Wings' offer and by the entire day.
"They're going to take us into the locker rooms on the 12th and they want us to do some other stuff," Joe said. "They were just piling everything on."
Fischer, who went through his own serious medical situation when his heart stopped during a Wings game, told Tyler and Joe that he wanted Tyler to meet Mike Barwis, the Wings director of sports science and human performance.
Barwis has worked with many people like Tyler who have suffered severe injuries.
"(Fischer said he ) takes a lot of soldiers and stuff and he said he's been able to get people out of the (wheel) chair," Joe said. "So he said he really wants us to see him."
Joe said the University of Michigan has already offered Tyler a four-year scholarship and he wants his son to take full advantage.
"They have dorms where you got eight dorms and you have eight caregivers," Joe said. "So when he has to get up, they'll take care of him, they'll clean him up and stuff, get him ready for school. I said, "Listen, you got a good head on your shoulders. You might be able to fix cancer or something. But you gotta do it.'"
Tyler told Fischer, "Hopefully someday I can work for you guys."
For Yzerman, any opportunity to give back, especially to a young man like Tyler, is something he loves to do.
"Make-A-Wish Foundation helps out a lot of children, a lot of families that have some pretty serious injuries and illnesses," Yzerman said. "So you get a chance to spend some time with them and brighten their day, cheer them up a little bit, hopefully inspire them a little bit to recover and fight longer. So I'm really more than willing to help out in any way."
The kind of inspiration Tyler received from meeting Yzerman and the others is something Joe believes could really motivate his son to chase some new dreams.
"I think maybe this might be the best thing that could happen for him," Joe said. "Now he realizes he still has a point to where he can do and say, hey, you know what, I need to get out of the house and I want to get my education. You never know what happens."