Steve Yzerman spent part of September in Traverse City, Mich., as he has for years.
The revered Motor City icon was in Michigan evaluating prospects as the new general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Turns out the Red Wings were there, too, and the kids wearing red, white and winged wheels made him pause.
“When I saw the Red Wings practice, it hit me a little bit,” Yzerman said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Tampa, Fla. “But since that moment, I’ve been so busy and involved with the job I’ve got here that I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it.”
Even if he had, Yzerman still probably wouldn’t say much.
The Hall of Fame player and rookie GM is a man of few words as those who are around him on a daily basis for the first time are finding out.
Still, it was Yzerman who was able to lure Tod Leiweke away from his role as the CEO of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, a group that oversees ownership of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and MLS’ Seattle Sounders.
The Lightning’s new owner, Jeff Vinik, fired GM Brian Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet in April after the struggling franchise missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Vinik hired Yzerman the next month and used him to seal a deal with Leiweke to be leave his job for the challenge of being Tampa Bay’s CEO and an opportunity to be a minority owner for the NHL franchise.
“When a lifelong hockey fan gets a call from Steve Yzerman, you take it and you listen,” Leiweke told The AP. “I was a huge admirer of his. He’s a thoughtful, measured and quiet guy, but there’s a passionate side of him that you know is the real deal.
“He told me he was excited on the phone and when I sat down with him here in Tampa, I got excited. When you look into this guy’s eyes, you see the same things the Red Wings saw when they named him captain at the age of 21 and why he won three Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal.”
Yzerman won gold again at the Vancouver Games as Hockey Canada’s executive director, delivering the medal the hockey-crazed country desperately wanted.
It was just his latest accomplishment.
The 45-year-old Yzerman was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and evolved into one of the best two-way players and respected leaders in league history after Detroit drafted him No. 4 overall.
After retiring in 2006 with 1,755 points, he gained front-office experience as a Red Wings vice president, as GM for Canada’s 2007 and 2008 world championship teams and as the architect of its Olympic-gold winning team this year.
“After talking to many people throughout the league, I came to the conclusion that Steve was the person to bring a winning culture back to this team,” Vinik said in May. “Steve is in charge of all hockey-related decisions. He does answer to me, but I trust his judgment and his insight.”