In my hockey dreamland, there is a hall of fame for players who have been selected by the most important stakeholders in NHL hockey – the fans. Don’t get me started on the current make-up of the official Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and the absence of fans. That’s a future blog.
My fantasy hall of fame does not use the same selection criteria as the HHOF. My hall emphasizes players’ community contributions, longevity in the game and dedication to one team, as well as skill on the ice.
So, who are the charter members of my hall? The very first inductee would be Steve Yzerman. This guy is truly amazing. I won’t rant about all my memories of Stevie ‘Y’ and his generous spirit and amazing on-ice talent. I will, however, tell you a quick story about the size of this guy’s heart.
At a year-end beach party during the final days of my 11th grade in high school, a group of my friends were clowning around on a local Ottawa beach. An accident occurred and one of my peers was left paralyzed and wheelchair bound for his remaining days.
I visited my friend in the hospital one day following the accident and he was happier than ever. He told me Steve Yzerman had just left the room. It was the spring of 1984 and Yzerman was only 18 years old. He had just completed his rookie season in Motown, setting franchise records for goals and points by a rookie with 39 and 87, respectively. He almost won the Calder Trophy (Tom Barrasso won) and was considered a local hero in Ottawa since he grew up playing in the community. My school friend was around 16 years old at the time and was recognized as a very good player in the same local league Yzerman had played in.
The fact Yzerman had taken the time to lift my friend’s spirits stuck with me. For years I thought I was the only hockey fan who held him in such high regard. When we started the NHLFA in 1998, I was thrilled to learn hockey fans all across North America revered Yzerman in much the same way I did. The guy had a positive effect on so many people in so many different ways.
My leading threesome as charter inductees for my fantasy hall of fame would have Yzerman as the captain. Joe Sakic would be one alternate captain and Jarome Iginla would be the other. These three guys are poster boys for all NHL players to follow as role models.
The NHL is a much better place with Sakic playing. He needs 71 points to reach 1700 for his career – all with the same franchise. Iginla is a 31-year-old superstar and a well-respected community guy. Fans adore him. He rightly deserves to be in the same stratosphere as Yzerman and Sakic.
Back to Yzerman and his massive heart.
Ten, 11, 12 years passed in Detroit and the Wings still had not won a Cup with Yzerman at the helm. Then it finally happened in the spring of 1997.
My community quickly renamed an arena in town the “Steve Yzerman Arena” to honor his achievements. Yzerman showed up at the rink with the Stanley Cup. He walked into the arena and did not stop walking, showing the same focus he displayed when he had the puck and headed for the net.
He did not stop marching until he reached my old high school buddy, sitting in his wheelchair amongst the fans. He placed the Cup on my friend’s lap, triggering the greatest smile you have ever seen on a guy’s face. His smile lit up the room and the front page of the local paper the next day.
The co-founder of the NHL Fans’ Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.