Stephen Gregory Yzerman is the longest-serving captain of any team in the history of North American major league sports.
Born in Carnbrook, British Columbia, on May 9, 1965, his family moved to Nepean, a suburb of Ottawa, Ontario, when he was nine years old. Yzerman [pronounced eye-zuhr-munn] started playing hockey at seven and did not skate very well at the start, but by the age of ten had become a self-proclaimed “rink rat” that constantly worked on his game. At age 14, he joined the Nepean Raiders juniors team in the Central Canada Hockey League, where he paired with future NHL player Dave Lowry to lead the Raiders to a 78-2 record while winning nine straight tournaments in route to being named Rookie of the Year and Outstanding Midget in 1980-81. Yzerman was drafted by the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League the following year and scored 21 goals with 43 assists in his first season. In 1982-83, he doubled that goals-scored total and had 49 assists.
The Detroit Red Wings held the fourth spot in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and had only made the playoffs twice in the previous 17 seasons. Detroit had not yet become “Hockeytown” and their home arena was three-quarters empty for home games, leading the locals to refer to the team as the “Dead Things”. Local businessman and Little Ceasars Pizza founder Mike Illitch had just purchased the struggling Red Wings and wanted to draft Detroit native Pat LaFontaine with his first pick. The New York Islanders also coveted LaFontaine and selected him #3, forcing the Wings to “settle” for Steve Yzerman at #4. Detroit intended to send the 18-year-old Yzerman back to Peterborough for one more year of seasoning but the 5’10”, 185 pound center made such and impression in his first training camp that they kept him on the roster. He did not disappoint, scoring a goal and an assist in his NHL debut on October 5, 1983. Yzerman went on to tally 39 goals and 87 points in route to being named to the All-Star game, becoming the youngest player, at age 18, ever to don an All-Star sweater. He finished second in Calder Memorial Trophy [rookie of the year] voting and made the All-Rookie Team for 1983-84.
The Red Wings named Steve Yzerman captain on October 7, 1986, making him, at age 21, the youngest captain in team history. The next season, he led the Wings to their first division title in 23 years. He recorded 155 points [65 goals and 90 assists] in 1988-89, the third-best point total in NHL history by a player not named Gretzky or Lemieux [Daily Dose, October 5], and Yzerman won the Lester B. Pearson Award [Players Association MVP]. Detroit hired the legendary Scotty Bowman as coach in 1993 and his first priority was to make Yzerman, who was an offensive star, a better defensive forward. The following year, Detroit was awarded the President’s Trophy for best record in the NHL and earned a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were swept by the New Jersey Devils. In 1996, the Red Wings again won the President’s Trophy and were heavily favored to win the Stanley Cup. Yzerman scored the most memorable goal of his career during the Western Conference Semifinals when he stole the puck from Gretzky and fired a slap shot from the blue line to win Game seven in double overtime. Detroit would lose in the next round but came back strong in 1997, sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals to win their first championship in 42 years. “The Captain” helped the Wings successfully defend their title the following year, sweeping the Washington Capitals in the Finals and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Bowman’s work paid off when Yzerman won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2000. Two years later, Detroit won their tenth Stanley Cup in team history and third of Steve Yzerman’s career in what would be Scotty Bowman’s final season as coach. Knee and eye injuries slowed Mr. Yzerman after that season, forcing his retirement after the 2006 campaign.
Steve Yzerman played for the Detroit Red Wings for 22 seasons and served as captain for 20 of them. He played in ten All-Star games, scored 50 or more goals in five different seasons and amassed 100 points in six straight seasons. He won three Stanley Cups as a player and one as an executive, all with Detroit, and won two gold medals while playing for Team Canada. “The Captain” led the Wings to five President’s Trophies and is sixth on the NHL’s all-time points list, seven in assists and nine in goals scored. He guided Team Canada to Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014 as Executive Director and is currently GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was named NHL General Manager of the Year in 2015. Steve Yzerman won the Bill Masterson Trophy in 2003 as the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey. Detroit retired his #19 sweater in 2007 and he is a member of the Ottawa Sports, Michigan Sports, Canada’s Sports, International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Halls of Fame.