With the Tampa Bay Lightning in town on Saturday, rebounding nicely (so far) from a bad 2013 season, and with our old friend Steve Yzerman as the GM, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on my dealings with Stevie over the years.
I was a cub reporter, assisting my U-M friends with the Michigan Daily, and working my first credentialed event—a Red Wings game in the second year of the Ilitch ownership.
Just a few months prior, GM Jimmy Devellano plucked a kid off the board in the first round of the draft named Steve, with a funny last name people were still unsure of how to pronounce.
The kid got a lot of EE-zer-man and WHY-zer-man in those days. The season was a couple weeks old and the correct pronunciation of EYE-zer-man was only on the tongues of those in the know.
Red Wings fans were hoping the team would draft Waterford native Pat LaFontaine, but the four-time defending Stanley Cup champs, the New York Islanders, nabbed LaFontaine ahead of Detroit.
Ironically, the Red Wings tabbed Yzerman, who wore no. 19 in honor of his favorite player, Bryan Trottier of the Islanders.
So I’m standing in the Red Wings locker room after the game, looking around for someone to talk to, as the rest of the media cluttered around the stalls of veterans like John Ogrodnick and Brad Park.
Behind me, dressing quietly, is that 18-year-old draftee, Yzerman. No one was talking to him.
So I struck up a conversation, the topic of which I have long forgotten. But what I do remember is how quiet his voice was, and that I had to lean in close to hear him over the din of the locker room. He spoke to me as he put his street clothes on. He was about as unassuming as a first round draft pick could be.
It wouldn’t be much longer before everyone learned how to pronounce his name.
Yzerman on draft day, 1983. Note the jersey no. 29; he would famously switch to 19 later
By this time I was working my first full-time job—as a producer/director for a local cable TV company in Taylor.
We were tabbed to produce a 30-second PSA for MAHA—Michigan Amateur Hockey Association. I was to write the script, and we would be shooting Yzerman and a bunch of local youth hockey players on JLA ice.
As my crew set up on the Red Wings bench, I spoke to Yzerman, who was in his first year of captaincy. I showed him the script I wrote the night before.
“THIS is 30 seconds? It looks like about ten!” he said as he perused it.
I maintained it would take 30 seconds after editing.
We chatted idly as the camera and microphones were readied and the kids were gathered and given their instructions.
I asked him about being the Red Wings captain at the tender age of 21.
“Well,” he said, still speaking softly, “I HAVE been in the league for a few years.”
It took us about an hour to shoot the B-roll and Yzerman’s speaking parts. The spot ended with all the kids skating from different directions and stopping behind Yzerman as he says his last line.
By now, Yzerman is 41, freshly retired from the Wings, and in attendance at Cobo Hall to see his old boss, Devellano, get inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. I’m there as part of my affiliation with the sports magazine (now defunct) that I am working for. My wife is with me at the dinner.
After the ceremony, I made a beeline for Yzerman, who was standing and chatting with Devellano, GM Ken Holland and others. I know Kenny a little bit, so I ask him for an audience with Yzerman.
I re-introduced myself, and introduced Mrs. Eno, whose eyes were as wide as saucers as Yzerman extended his hand and politely greeted her. I ask Yzerman to sign the event’s program, but to make it out to Nicole, our then-13 year-old daughter.
I chat him up briefly about retirement and his new role as a sponge in the Red Wings front office. My wife continues to stare at the boyishly handsome Yzerman.
We parted ways after one more thanks for the signature, and to this day Mrs. Eno speaks fondly of the “night she met Steve Yzerman.”
So I interacted with Yzerman as a teenaged rookie, as a new captain, and as a retired, sure-fire HOFer.
Pretty cool, eh?