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March 18, 2016

Monday, January 21, 2002

The ultimate leader

Yzerman golden asset for our Olympic drive


 DETROIT -- They'll team up next month in Salt Lake City with one goal in mind: Bringing home gold for Canada.

 Senators coach Jacques Martin and Detroit Red Wings superstar Steve Yzerman were on opposite benches last night as Ottawa made a rare stop at Joe Louis Arena, but they'll be seeing plenty of each other soon enough.

 Only a few days after the Wings make a visit to Yzerman's home town on Feb. 9, Yzerman and Martin will play big roles as Team Canada begins its pursuit of the Olympic title in the biggest tournament of the season.

 "I think (Yzerman) is going to play a big role for us," said Martin, an associate on coach Pat Quinn's staff. "If you look at the first eight players we named, six of them were captains, because we need leadership.

 "Mario is our captain, but we need people who are going to back him up. We feel like we've got strong people in that area and Steve has been excellent. He's such a versatile player, there are a lot of things he can do for us. The big thing about him is that he works so hard."

 The 36-year-old Yzerman goes a long way back with Martin. While coaching for Rockland in the Central Junior Hockey League, Martin's job was trying to shut down Yzerman, then a 15-year-old playing for the Nepean Raiders.

 After moving to Peterborough as an assistant to Dave Dryden the next season, Martin made clear his belief that Yzerman should be the man the Petes should pick with the No. 3 pick in the 1981 OHL entry draft.

 "He wasn't a big guy, but I remember Dave Dryden coming up to me one time in practice and telling me that this guy (Yzerman) couldn't shoot the puck. That kind of makes me laugh now when you think what he's done," said Martin.

 "The one thing that has impressed me about him is that he's improved throughout his career. You have to admire a guy who is like that. It's also impressive that he's been able to play his career all in one place. You don't see that anymore."

 And the Wings don't have any plans to move him. Yes, Yzerman came close to being sent to the Senators in a deal which would have included winger Martin Straka in 1995, but coach Scotty Bowman killed it in the end.

 A story has made the rounds that Bowman called Yzerman into his office and told him if he didn't improve his play defensively, then he'd be sent to the Senators, who were feuding with Alexei Yashin at the time.

 Speaking with a Phoenix newspaper recently, Yzerman virtually confirmed he was nearly given a new mailing address before accepting Bowman's request to play on a checking line to improve.

 "It happened in (1995), I think," Yzerman said last week. "Scotty (Bowman) put me on a line with (Darren) McCarty and (Bob) Errey. I had played all the time, but come on, we weren't going to score a lot of goals.

 "I wasn't in a position not to accept it. I chose to accept it rather than going someplace else. I was playing for a contender and if I left, I wasn't going to go to a good team, let's put it that way."

 When push came to shove, owner Mike Ilitch wouldn't give his blessing to the deal. And look what he's gone on to accomplish.


 Last night, Yzerman joined an elite group: He became only the sixth player in NHL history to accumulate 1,000 assists and 500 goals in his career, an achievement that puts him in the company of legends such as Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.

 The Wings captain is going to finish his career here and -- this is no slight to GM Ken Holland -- but someday Yzerman will be the one calling the shots in Detroit.

 His contract is of the lifetime nature. The Wings are going to extend his deal, which has one year remaining. In the summer, he'll let them know when he wants to retire. He's not the most talkative player, but chooses to lead by example.

 "As far as I'm concerned, Steve Yzerman is the greatest captain who ever lived," Holland said.

 And he should be worth his weight in gold for Canada.

2002 Games Columnists