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Yzerman recalls the Joe, but playoffs occupy his mind

The Tampa Bay Lightning are three points out of the final wild-card spot in the East

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Steve Yzerman met with the Detroit media on Friday evening to reminisce one last time about Joe Louis Arena.

In typical Yzerman fashion, he was more comfortable talking about others than he was about himself.

"I haven't given it a lot of thought. We're in the middle of still trying to stay in the playoff race," Yzerman said when asked about his thoughts when he entered Joe Louis for the last time on Friday. "I see a lot of people as you walk in the building, all the people that were here virtually the entire time I was here. They welcomed me back for the last time.

"Just kind of seems a little different. But I'm looking forward to getting to the new building."

It was obvious that Yzerman is totally engrossed in the playoff race his Tampa Bay Lightning currently find themselves embroiled in, but he was gracious when recalling the Joe.

"I loved playing here, I loved being in the building, obviously have a lot of very exciting moments," Yzerman said. "Every now and then you see a highlight on TV and it brings back some memories. "A lot of memories. The Stanley Cups, obviously, getting the trophy twice here and the two Stanley Cups were the most exciting."

Yzerman also addressed the Wings' playoff streak of 25 consecutive seasons telling reporters, "I think everyone in Detroit should be proud of it. It's incredibly difficult to make the playoffs in this league.

"Going back, I forget when the exact year it was, the last one (the year they last didn't make the playoffs), but the early '90s; this team was a legitimate competitor for the Stanley Cup for a lot of years.

"It wasn't just a four or five-year span, it's been a 20-year span they've been legitimate contenders for the Cup. Kenny's (Wings GM Ken Holland) done a tremendous job of managing the team and keeping it competitive on a yearly basis."

Detroit's former captain was extremely complimentary towards Wings current captain Henrik Zetterberg.

When Zetterberg first arrived in Detroit, he sat right next to Yzerman in the locker room.

It was apparent from the beginning that Detroit wanted the Captain to groom a future captain of the Red Wings.

"From the day he came into the organization he was professional, very mature. A professional in the way he conducted himself on a daily basis, the way he practiced, the way he played he was going to be Henrik whether Nick (Lidstrom) or I was there or not," said Yzerman. "He just had the special qualities of a leader, tremendous hockey player, tremendous all-around player. Like from day one, he had all those abilities, which I really admire because a lot of us had to learn that stuff, but he knew it as a young man.

"He's just been a fantastic leader for the team, what is he, 36 now? He is quietly having a tremendous season for the team. Again, my first impression of him was, he's got it, he's got it figured out, he's a classy guy, he's a smart guy.

"I got to play against him in 2002 in Salt Lake at the Olympics. Sweden beat us in the first game. That was my first look at him live; he was really good and made a great play on his backhand on a 2-on-1 and from that moment on, it was like, wow, this guy is really good and he has never looked back."

Yzerman has always had an unassuming nature when he's asked about his individual exploits.

He has always considered himself fortunate to play on teams where he was one player on a team made up of many good players, yet there is something about playing for the Wings which he has always cherished.

"I came to Detroit in 1983, you walk in the locker room and Ted Lindsay is in the gym working out, he's probably still doing that today," Yzerman said. "He is such a down-to-earth guy, such a nice person, always took time to say hello, he'd ask about your family. A great role model for all the Red Wings, myself included, and the young guys that are on the team today, a role model for them all.

"What I have always found unique about the Red Wings is I come into this building as a kid, you walk in and one day you see Gordie Howe, you talk to Gordie Howe, the next day you walk in and you see Ted Lindsay. Alex Delvecchio keeps a very low profile around the city but occasionally you'd see Alex. The list goes on and on with some of the older guys. Those are unique to playing in some of the Original Six cities."

Sometime on Friday evening, one of the Wings' greatest players will walk out of Joe Louis Arena for the very last time, but if you expect a tear or two to be shed, you really don't understand Steve Yzerman.

"Not likely, no. I'm hoping to get two points, that would be a nice way to get out of here," was Yzerman's response when asked if he would take a memento from the Joe as he drove off into the sunset.

"I've got tremendous memories that I'll always have and nothing is better than those."

What made Joe Louis Arena such an iconic building was the competitive spirit of the players that wore the winged wheel.

Yzerman was the embodiment of that mindset on Friday.

Make no mistake, he loves the Joe but it's always been about the two points.

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