TORONTO – Steve Yzerman may have stumbled upon an unusual way to turn back the clock when he decided to quit playing a game and get a job.
More than one, actually.
Now 43 and busier than ever, Yzerman paradoxically looks younger and fresher than he did during the final injury-filled seasons of his career with the Detroit Red Wings. The intensity that made him one of the greatest NHLers in history is still there, but there’s also a renewed vibrancy that has come with new challenges.
Perhaps that’s why it seemed just a little strange to see him among the inductees to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Yzerman is a little more than two years removed from announcing his retirement, but his contributions to the game continue as a vice-president with the Red Wings and the executive director of Canada’s 2010 Olympic men’s hockey team.
The transition from his playing days has been virtually seamless.
“Anybody that’s successful wants to do well and takes pride in what they do,” said Yzerman. “I enjoy getting in my car and going to watch a game somewhere – and not necessarily an NHL game. I like all aspects of it.
“It’s a new challenge and it’s invigorating. I enjoy it.”
Far from being the sort of athlete who eases into retirement by playing golf every day, Yzerman dove head-first into his career as an executive – even though he hadn’t originally planned it that way.
His first instinct was to take a year away from the game before joining the Wings in some kind of management role. However, Detroit GM Ken Holland suggested he take a front office role right away and the advice ended up being just what he needed.
Within a year, Yzerman was GM of the Canadian team that won the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Moscow and was well on his way to establishing himself in a new career.
“I’m really glad that I made that decision to get involved right away,” said Yzerman. “I find out very quickly that I really enjoy it and I like being around.
“I don’t know much about anything but I’m confident I have some knowledge of the game. It’s an area that I’m really comfortable in and enjoy, so for me it’s been a natural transition.”
Naturally, he was enshrined in Canada’s Sports Hall for the many contributions he made to hockey as a player.
Yzerman joined the Red Wings as a skinny 18-year-old and became the team’s captain in 1986, leading the franchise into an era where it would win three Stanley Cups and become a perennial contender.
He played in 1,514 regular-season games over 22 seasons, scoring 692 goals and racking up 1,755 points – leaving him sixth all-time in NHL history.
The personal highlights are obvious: the Stanley Cup wins in 1997, 1998 and 2002 along with the gold medal he earned as an integral part of the Canadian Olympic team in Salt Lake City. That experience cemented his passion for the international game, particularly as the size of the achievement became more evident.
“I don’t think any of us players really realized how special it was until we won,” said Yzerman. “It was very emotional for all the players.”
Only a couple weeks have passed since Yzerman officially accepted his post with the 2010 Olympic team, but he’s already hard at work. The management team had a conference call last week to discuss dates for a summer orientation camp (likely late August in Calgary) and coaching summit, while Yzerman has already started thinking about his own long list of players to consider.
He’s fortunate to have a flexible schedule with the Red Wings. The Olympic job will require him to watch more NHL games than he has over the past two seasons, meaning he’ll see fewer AHL and college games than normal.
The new time demands are something he’s also adjusting to.
“What I’m finding is that I really got to organize my schedule better and get it done in advance,” said Yzerman. “I’m figuring it out so that I’m able to maximize my time and see a lot of games.
“I guess my priorities as far as games are the NHL.”
With everything Yzerman has going on, it’s little wonder why he doesn’t sit around reflecting on his playing days very often. At least he had a few moments to do that Wednesday while being honoured by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
He remains fit even though the constant travel tends to interrupt his workout schedule – just one price that needs to be paid for leading such a busy lifestyle. Even still, you can’t help but get the feeling there’s nothing he’d rather be doing.
The kid whose only goal in life was to play in the NHL has found a new passion.
“I retired old for a hockey player, but relatively young,” said Yzerman. “I pretty quickly felt like there was things I want to do.”