Even when the Detroit Red Wings retired his No. 19 jersey Tuesday night, the native of Cranbrook, B.C., deflected credit during a ceremony at Joe Louis Arena. 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.”
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau, speaking in Montreal prior to his club’s game versus Tampa Bay, said Yzerman was deserving of having his No. 19 retired.
“He’s always been a professional on and off the ice and I think he deserves everything he’s got now,” Carbonneau said. “It’s funny. I remember Steve earlier in his career when he was mainly an offensive guy, a little like Joe Sakic, where he didn’t really battle on faceoffs.
“And then I think he really became the player he is when he decided to play a little more defensively. I thought he got more respect playing hard, blocking shots and taking pride in winning faceoffs than maybe earlier in his career.”
Yzerman retired last summer at the age of 41 after 22 seasons – all in Detroit – and stayed with the organization as a vice-president.
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, Yzerman acknowledged he was not real comfortable being the centre of attention.
“I’ve thought about this day for a long time and I’ve kind looked forward to it and regretted it,” he said.