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Yzerman departure tough on Ilitches

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Tuesday was a very difficult day for the Red Wings and their owners, Mike and Marian Ilitch, who for the last 27 years thought of Steve Yzerman as a son.

On Tuesday, Yzerman, 45, was named the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In a written statement, the Ilitches said, “Today is a difficult day for us, just as we know it is for Red Wings fans everywhere.  It's hard to imagine Steve Yzerman in anything other than the red and white Winged Wheel as he has been synonymous with the Red Wings and Hockeytown for as long as most of us can remember.”

Since he retired as a player in 2006, Yzerman had been a vice president in the Wings’ organization, and began to have aspirations of leading a team of his own.

With GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill entrenched in their positions with the club, Yzerman knew that he would have to leave Detroit if he was to obtain his goal.

“We want to congratulate Steve on his new position with the Tampa Bay Lightning,” the Ilitch statement said. “This is an exciting and well-deserved opportunity for him and his family, and we know he will do a terrific job in this next chapter of his life.”

In 22-year playing career, Yzerman scored 692 goals while compiling 1,755 points, and he was part of three Stanley Cup winning teams. When he hoisted the Cup over his head on June 7, 1997 it erased a city’s pain built on a 42-year championship drought.

“This is not easy,” wrote the Ilitches. “We're having a difficult time, frankly, because Stevie's been with us from the start and we consider him part of our family. We drafted him as a young and shy 18-year-old – just a year after we bought the team – and he has been part of it all: the ups and downs, highs and lows, the Cups, the celebrations, really everything Red Wings over the last 27 years. We watched him grow and develop over the years into a Hall of Fame player, a wonderful husband and father and now, a very capable executive.”

Yzerman becomes the sixth GM in Lightning history, replacing Brian Lawton, who was fired in April. Lawton was the top draft pick by the Minnesota North Stars the same year that the Wings selected Yzerman fourth overall.

On January 2, 2007, Yzerman’s No. 19 was officially retired in an electric pre-game ceremony at Joe Louis Arena. He was joined by family and friends, former Wings greats, 20,066 boisterous fans in attendance, and a national-televised audience throughout Canada. His sweater now hangs from the JLA rafters along side all-time legends Terry Sawchuk (1), Ted Lindsay (7), Gordie Howe (9), Alex Delvecchio (10) and Sid Abel (12).

“We appreciate all Stevie has done for us, our organization and this community, and we wish him all the best,” the Ilitch statement said. “Stevie Y will always be a Red Wing and he'll always be in our hearts.”

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