From the celebrities I’ve met files……..

(not that it’s important)

OR

……..even if you’re not a hockey fan, you might enjoy these stories.

There’s something ironic that the NHL playoff season begins just as the Tulips are inching up from the thawing ground in which they slept all winter. Hockey is a sport born on the frozen rivers of Canada, Russia and other places with such clime. Yet, here it is the second game of the inital rounds and in Detroit that means almost everything else is planned arounf the Detroit Red Wings’ games until (hopefully) the middle of June when our guys bring home the oldest sports trophy in the world, the Stanley Cup.

But this post is not about hockey. It is an intial installment on a new feature called “celebrities I’ve met” (for now until I think of a better title than that).

Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman are in this category among the “celebrities” I’ve met: Neither would consider themselves celebrities, nor would they want to be considered as such and each are among the most geniune “famous” people I’ve met.

I will write more about my meetings with Scotty Bowman on another day. I am reposting a column I wrote about Steve Yzerman back in February. It is timely and some of my newer visitors may have missed it. And I’ve posted a link to a story about Scotty and his role with the Wings this playoffs…..it is interesting on its own merit.

I’ve changed the picture to include one of Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman. Notice Yzerman’s daughter in the picture….it is a main component of my column about him below.

MITCH ALBOM: Bowman first-class guest on playoff ride

Welcome Back Captain………

In an amazing rehabilitation effort, Detroit Red Wing’s Captain began his 20th NHL season last night — returning to the lineup after having radical surgery rarely done on humans, let alone professional athletes.

Pinckney, MI — Steve Yzerman will likely never read this column. But we met once in the halls of Joe Louis Arena when I was covering the Wings for a small weekly paper in Detroit. And at the young age of 21 he taught a 26-year-old Vinman who thought he was 35 a lot about humility. It happened like this………..:

It was @’85 or ’86 and the Red Wings (plainly put) STUNK. They were at a low point in their career and I was lucky enough to be covering them as a young professional reporter. Even if I didn’t have press passes to the game, it was a time when you could scalp a lower-bowl fifth-row ticket for about $10, pay $3 to park, grab a hot dog and a beer and make it home for under $20 for the evening. Imagine that!

But on this night, much like he did last night, Steve Yzerman was returning to the Red Wings. He had badly injured his knee for the first time in his short career and no one knew what his future held. He had been gone for a while, and after a long rehab, Mike Illitich told him to spend some time at the Illitch family condo somewhere in Florida during spring break.

I had watched the game in the press box and took my usual trek down to the locker room, always getting there early so I wouldn’t get pushed around by the “real reporters” who didn’t even know my name. As I went down, I walked behind a guy with a great trench coat. It was a small tweed pattern, blue on brown and it fit him well. Always a fan of nice trench coats and fedoras, I fancied myself having a coat like that and walked evenly paced behind the gentleman halfway around the arena in a corridor underneath the crowd.

When I arrived at the locker room, it was still closed, the game having just finished, the coaches taking the usual time before opening it up to the media. Across the hall stood a younger man than I had imagined in the stylish trenchcoat, talking to an older blonde woman describing the pageantry and high-times of spring break with an awe like that of a kid attending his first pro baseball game. At first I thought it must be some relative of somebody in the organization but it suddenly hit me that it was Yzerman talking to Marian Illitch, the owner’s wife.

“Oh, man you should have seen the beach and the cars…it was really cool.” he told her as he described how relaxing and fun it was to take a break in Florida. She smiled and listened like a friend’s mother would…attentive and remembering her own experiences but not prying too much.

As I stood there, listening, I realized he was no different than any college junior or senior on spring break. Looking for a bit of fun and relaxation only the young can understand. Only difference was that he was a famous pro hockey player earning about $500,000 a year at the time.

Still he was as polite and genuine as anybody I’ve ever met. He shyly said hello to me and we chatted for a brief minute or two about Florida. We could as well have been two guys sharing a beer.

Flash forward to last year’s Stanley Cup victory celebration at the Joe: Many players had their families at the rink and many were on the ice for the team photos and celebrations on ice before heading into the dressing room. Television crews awaited Yzerman’s arrival like New Yorkers waited for Babe Ruth. The captain had played through pain no one could know or understand and without his leadership the Wings would not have won their third cup in six years.

“Here comes Yzerman, get that camera over there, let’s get Stevie on camera..” barked Bernie Smilovitz, television reporter for WDIV Channel 4.

And there was the shot, from the waist up, Yzerman was smiling, broad around as an airport’s fog light. But he wasn’t ready for the press.

“Hang on guys!” he said. “I’ll be with you in a minute.” Then the camera followed him to his locker stall, where he pulled up a chair and his 6 year-old daughter from the end of his hand and lifted her up onto the stool. The reported started their barrage of questions.

“Hang on guys,” he admonished again, turning to his beautiful little girl who was slightly nervous by the commotion. “Can I get you anything, a coke?” said daddy Steve.

“Uh, huh.” she said, and with that the Captain left the reporters cold, walked away and returned in about 15 seconds with a coke. He handed it to his daughter, turned to the media and said, “Okay guys, what do you want to talk about?”

The young lad on spring break had become the greatest daddy in the world. And from the time I first met him to now, he’s been a shining example of class. Welcome back Captain.

(c) Copyright 2003 — Vinman’s Verbosity

All Rights Reserved

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