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 Detroit 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
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
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
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.