The Detroit Red Wings-Toronto Maple Leafs alumni games are less than a month away. The rosters are pretty much set. You can view them by clicking here.
Naturally, the names bring back fond memories and some “Oh yeah!” moments—guys you kind of forgot about but that you’re glad they’re going to suit up, all the same.
Red Wings fans shouldn’t get their hopes up about one big name showing up who isn’t on the announced list.
If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put any dough on number 19.
Steve Yzerman is seven-plus years into retirement and rarely has a professional athlete eased into his non-playing days more smoothly than the former Red Wings captain.
Yzerman skated off the ice for the final time as an active player in Edmonton in May, 2006, his team eliminated by the Oilers in a first round playoff upset.
He says he’s been on skates once since then. Once.
The mantra has been consistent for Yzerman. Once he peeled off the sweater and hung up the skates, that chapter of his life was finished, complete with “The End” after it for good measure.
I hit Yzerman with the question twice, a few years apart.
The first time was at the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Dinner in October, 2006. He was just five months into retirement at that point, feeling his way in his new job as a member of the Red Wings front office.
Yzerman was at the dinner to see his old boss, Jimmy Devellano, get inducted.
I caught Yzerman after the dinner.
“So, you miss it?” I said, or something like that, about his playing days.
“Not at all. Perfectly happy,” he said.
A few years later, Yzerman was taking part in a teleconference, talking about his role as part of the executive management team for Team Canada, prior to the 2010 Olympics.
I was one of the questioners, and I again asked him about putting on the skates. As in, had he done so?
“No,” he said flatly. “I don’t miss it. I really don’t. I think I put on skates once, and that was enough.”
Yzerman, now the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was a TV guest during the first intermission of a Red Wings-Lightning game last month. FSD’s Mickey Redmond tried to get a yes or no answer from Yzerman about whether he was going to play in the Alumni Game at the end of December.
Yzerman was non-committal, but I think it was just a polite way of saying no. He alluded to other commitments he had around that time, GM-related.
Certainly he didn’t wax wistful, nor did he seem to miss skating. He re-asserted to Redmond that the skates continued to gather dust.
Yzerman is the rare pro athlete who doesn’t seem to be pulled back by the camaraderie and the locker room brotherhood, especially after being a part of it for over 20 years.
His feelings about retirement clash with those of former teammate Darren McCarty, whose new book, “My Last Fight,” just hit the stores and some excerpts of which have been published by the Detroit Free Press.
McCarty, like so many others of his brethren, openly misses everything about playing—the travel, the practices, the pranks. Winning four Stanley Cups wasn’t too bad, either.
I remember talking to former Red Wings player and coach Bill Gadsby about this. Gadsby played in the 1950s and ’60s. When I spoke to him in 2006 for a magazine piece, Gadsby told me that even at his advanced age (over 70), he still missed practices in addition to the games. And Gadsby never did win a Stanley Cup.
Not Yzerman. He took the skates off and with them, he took off the player’s cloak forever.
It would be wonderful, of course, if no. 19 in the blood red sweater stepped onto the ice to do battle against the Maple Leafs alumni—some of whom Yzerman played with and against, as several listed on the Toronto roster also played for the Red Wings when Yzerman did—namely Darryl Sittler, Dave Williams, Steve Thomas and Bob McGill.
But will it happen? Will the Red Wings coax Steve Yzerman into the gear one more time?
Don’t get your hopes up.