Tonight in Toronto, former Red Wings' captain Steve Yzerman will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside two of his 2001-02 teammates Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull. The ceremony will be broadcast live on TSN and NHL Network (Canada and U.S.) at 7 p.m. EDT.
As a blogger, I can't provide anything unique about The Captain that you have never heard. Between the articles published after he won the Cup, retired, and around his jersey retirement ceremony, reporters and bloggers have covered seemingly every angle of his illustrious career. I know I've personally written thousands of words about No. 19 over the last four years as we remember his career and what he has done. He's already been inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, received the Lester Patrick award, and had his jersey retired at Joe Louis Arena.
I wanted to point you to three great pieces that have come out in the past week about Yzerman. First, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com wrote an absolutely fantastic piece about The Captain and it certainly was my favorite article that I've read this month. Greg Kuppa at The Detroit News takes a look at his childhood and hockey growing up, which we don't usually hear about in the media. Finally, Helene St. James has an exclusive interview with Yzerman that was published in the Detroit Free Press.
The best way I feel that I can honor his induction tonight is by posting an excerpt of a post I wrote at the start of the 2007 playoffs that was well-received by my readers (then at Behind the Jersey).
Excerpt of BTJ Post:
It’s 12:35am on Wednesday evening and I should be sleeping since I have an incredibly busy day tomorrow. But, the constant throbbing in my knee won’t let me sleep. So this post is definitely not a normal post for me by any stretch and is really me rambling about my knee, Yzerman, pain, and the playoffs so feel free to skip this one if you so desire.
People look at me like I’m crazy when they learn how much I’m into hockey. You want to know why? Because when I’m watching hockey, I’m free. I picture myself out there. I get all excited when the players start fighting and I celebrate after every goal. I can’t escape my life of chronic pain, but I can escape the pain for those couple hours. It’s that time that makes me feel like I’m free again. That pain doesn’t confine my life. That I can do anything. I get caught up in the beauty of the movement. Of the connection between teammates. Of the joy following a goal. Of the passion these players have for their sport. Of one player fighting for a teammate. Of the magic of a breakaway goal. Of scoring a shorthanded goal to win the game. Of watching these incredible athletes sacrifice their bodies for the sake of the team.
Steve Yzerman is my favorite player of all time. Why? It’s not because he’s a great leader. Or at one point a scoring machine who turned into a complete two way player. It’s because he has a high pain threshold and incredible perseverence. He went out and played. Hockey was also his escape. Sure, it made the pain worse. But I bet while he was playing, he felt whole again (I bet you during a stoppage in play, it hurt all over again). Winning was Yzerman’s ultimate pain killer and in 2002, he led the team in points during the playoffs and to a Stanley Cup victory despite a knee so bad he had to have an operation to realign his knee that offseason. Something that is usually only done for elderly patients to help them walk again. Something that no professional athlete has ever returned from (aside from Yzerman).
An article by John Niyo of The Detroit News was printed Wednesday morning discussing pain in the playoffs. My favorite excerpt obviously included Yzerman and that magical playoff run:
For the last two decades in Detroit, that meant following the example set by Steve Yzerman. And given The Captain’s high pain threshold, laughs Piet Van Zant, the Wings trainer, "It’s almost unfair to compare anybody to him."
Everyone remembers Yzerman in 2002, essentially playing on one leg throughout the playoffs, using his stick almost as a crutch at times.
"That was one of the greatest sporting accomplishments that I’ve ever witnessed," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "To watch him limp into the rink the morning of a game, talking to doctors to see what he went through to play, the pain he endured every other night for two months — it was incredible."
And yet, it’s closer to the rule than the exception in hockey.
"That’s one of the things the fans admire about hockey players, their ability and their desire to play through the pain," said Van Zant, who is in his 14th season with the organization. "That’s one of the things that I think sets hockey players apart — that willingness to sacrifice themselves.
I have an autographed 16×20 photograph of Yzerman sitting on the the bench during a game at home above my bed. I have a 5×7 photo of Yzerman slowly getting up on his bad knee during a game at my dorm. These photos remind me of how he overcame pain to succeed and that I need to have the same mindset when all I can think of is the intense throbbing or stabbing pain in my knee. I don’t know Yzerman. I’ve never met the guy. I can’t tell you what he’s like in the locker room or how he treats his family. I can tell you that he has dealt with a significant amount of pain and the way he responded to it inspires me on a daily basis.
And sometimes, it hurts to be a fan. Sometimes it doesn’t help you escape life. During the playoffs, it becomes your life. A loss for your team? It hurts. When you see your team lose in the first round consistently, it stings. And yes, I get bitter towards the team that kicked us out of the postseason. But I’m still feeling something other than the pain in my knee. Hockey distracts me from the one thing that drives me mad.
Tomorrow, the playoffs begin for the Detroit Red Wings. And as much as these playoffs torture my very being, they also make me feel more alive and excited than any other time of the year. Tomorrow, the Wings quest for the Cup begins. Tomorrow, the city of Detroit will fill with a sea of fans wearing the red and white. Tomorrow, we will start a magical playoff run or continue the haunting early playoff exits. Either way, I’m going to be there every step of the way and I hope you’ll join me by commenting on the playoff action here on BTJ. Good night and go Wings!
End of the Excerpt
So if you are still reading this, what was your favorite memory of Yzerman? What aspect of his career or personality stood out to you? What do you remember about The Captain? Please share in the comments!