DETROIT -- Steve Yzerman spent his entire career trying to
avoid the spotlight.
Even when the Detroit Red Wings retired his No. 19 jersey
Tuesday night, he deflected credit during a ceremony at Joe Louis
Yzerman praised his family, the franchise's front office, former
coach Scotty Bowman and former teammates. Then, the usually stoic
Yzerman got emotional when he addressed his adoring fans.
"My jersey is going to go up there and I hope as you watch it
go up, and when you come back and see it, you give yourself a pat
on the back because you're a big reason why that jersey is up
there," he said. "It doesn't represent what I did, but what we
did as an organization."
Yzerman, who was a captain for a league-record 20 seasons, is
regarded as one of the best leaders in NHL history. But the player
known as "The Captain" attempted to downplay that reputation.
"I feel like my image as a great leader is greatly overblown
because I played with some of the greatest hockey players," said
Yzerman, a comment that was met by groans in the sold-out crowd.
"I stand here humbly saying 'Thank you.' Any personal success I
had was because of the great players I played with."
Yzerman retired last summer at the age of 41 after 22 seasons --
all in Detroit -- and stayed with the organization as a vice
He led the Red Wings to Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998
and 2002. His career ended with 1,755 regular-season points, a
total that led all active players last season and trails just five
in NHL history.
Before the ceremony that lasted nearly 1½ hours and preceded a
game against Anaheim, which Detroit went on to win 2-1, Yzerman
acknowledged he was not real comfortable being the center of
"I've thought about this day for a long time and I've kind
looked forward to it and regretted it," he said.
His jersey became the sixth retired by the storied franchise and
was hoisted to the rafters alongside Gordie Howe's No. 9, Ted
Lindsay's No. 7, Terry Sawchuck's No. 1, Alex Delvecchio's No. 10
and Sid Abel's No. 12.
Yzerman had a franchise-record 1,063 assists and trails only
Howe with 692 goals.
"That was not bad for a player who put offense on the back
burner halfway through his career," Red Wings senior vice
president Jim Devellano said.
The year before Yzerman was drafted, the team dubbed the "Dead
Wings" gave away a car at each home game to spur interest because
the previous season there were just 2,100 season-ticket holders.
Detroit drafted the skinny, talented player that few non-hockey
gurus knew -- with a last name few could pronounce -- with the fourth
pick overall in the 1983 NHL draft. During his career, the team
became wildly popular and regularly sold out Joe Louis Arena while
being one of the elite teams in the NHL.
"I vowed to rebuild the franchise through the draft and that
began on June the 8th, 1983, at the Montreal Forum," Devellano
said. "We knew he was good, but oh, what a cornerstone he turned
out to be."
Yzerman was a sensational scorer -- lighting the lamp 228 times
in a four-season stretch -- during his early years before Bowman
helped him become a two-way player that was respected for his
backchecking almost as much as his shot.
Toward the end of his career, Yzerman's banged-up body took him
out of the lineup and often slowed him when he was on the ice.
He missed the first 66 games of the 2002-03 season following a
knee surgery -- usually reserved for retirees -- that involved sawing
into the bone below his knee and using a wedge to realign the
Bones in his face were shattered and various other ailments hurt
Yzerman, but didn't damage his competitive spirit.
"No player I ever coached could play with a pain threshold like
Steve Yzerman," Bowman said. "I treasure all of my Stanley Cup
triumphs, but none like the one when Steve handed me the Cup [in
2002] following the game that would be my final game as coach."
Boston Bruins coach Dave Lewis agreed.
"I'll never forget the 2002 playoffs when Steve could barely
walk up the steps to get onto the team plane," said Lewis, who
played with Yzerman and was later his assistant and head coach.
"Then, when he got on the ice, you wouldn't even know he was hurt
because he was such an unbelievable competitor."
On a puck-shaped podium at center ice in the middle of a
red-carpeted "C," Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom presented
Yzerman and his family with a trip to Austria to watch the 2008
Euro Cup finals. Owner Mike Ilitch gave him a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe.
"You helped build Hockeytown," Ilitch said. "When people hear
your name, they think 'Red Wings.'"
During a pregame gathering, a proclamation from Michigan
Governor Jennifer Granholm was read and it designated Jan. 13, 2007
-- the date of Detroit's next home game -- as "Steve Yzerman Day."
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick dubbed Tuesday "Steve Yzerman
Day" and presented Yzerman with a key to the city. Kilpatrick also
said the intersection of Third and Atwater Streets, which meet at
Joe Louis Arena, will be changed to "Yzerman Drive."
Perhaps fittingly, that honor also brought a self-deprecating
reaction from Yzerman.
"I kind of wish my name was Smith or Jones," he said. "In 20
years, nobody will remember how to pronounce it. It took me 20
years for everybody to know how to pronounce it."