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Yzerman set to add Hall of Fame to list of feats

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT -- Steve Yzerman was nervous before making his NHL debut.

He quickly found out he had nothing to worry about.

In his first game, in 1983 at Winnipeg, Yzerman had a goal and an assist for the Red Wings.

"I was nervous because I didn't know what to expect and my dad was in town," Yzerman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press before being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night. "Then, I remember being comfortable with how I was doing with the pace.

"It was a pleasant surprise."

It was for Detroit, too.

"We considered sending him to Peterborough because we thought he might need another year of junior hockey to get stronger physically," said Red Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who drafted Yzerman fourth overall. "It didn't take us long to see this skinny, 18-year-old kid was our best player. That tells you something about him, and our team at the time."

Yzerman finished his rookie season with 87 points and retired with 1,755 in 2006, when no active player had more points. He turned around Detroit's franchise, hoisting three Stanley Cups and helped Canada win men's hockey Olympic gold in 2002 for the first time in 50 years.

Yzerman's career will be celebrated during enshrinement ceremonies in Toronto, where he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame with former teammates Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch and New Jersey Devils president Lou Lamoriello.

Yzerman was never the biggest or fastest player on the ice, but Leetch compares him with Wayne Gretzky.

"No one looks at Gretz as the greatest skater, but watch video of him and his ability to create space and hold onto that puck," Leetch said. "I looked at Steve the same way."

Yzerman has few peers as a leader, being a captain for an NHL-record 20 seasons.

He rarely led with his words. He always did with his actions.

"Steve preferred to keep his mouth shut and his ears open as a player, and he still does as a vice president for the organization," Devellano said. "As a player, he didn't need to say how strong his will was because he simply showed it every day."

Yzerman missed the first 66 games of the 2002-03 season following a knee surgery usually reserved for retirees, which involved sawing into the bone below his knee and using a wedge to realign the joint.

Bones in his face were shattered and various other ailments hurt Yzerman during an NHL career that was spent entirely in Detroit.

"No player I ever coached could play with a pain threshold like Steve Yzerman," Hall of Fame coach Scott Bowman has said.

During Detroit's Stanley Cup run in 2002, Yzerman had to use his stick as a prop to get off the ice and still was one of the team's best players at times.

"He was skating on one leg," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom recalled.

Yzerman is glad he hung up his skates when he did, though, unlike some athletes who return after calling it quits or regret retiring.

"Not once have I thought I retired too soon," Yzerman said.

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