Steve Yzerman on Detroit Red Wings’ 1997 triumph: ‘I didn’t want the game to end’

Detroit Free Press

Twenty-four years ago today, the decades-long wait ended for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans. On June 7, 1997, at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings completed their four-game sweep of the Flyers, 2-1, and kicked off the Hockeytown dynasty of four championships in 11 seasons. The Free Press’ new book  — “Stanleytown: 25 Years Later” — tells the behind-the-scenes stories of the Stanley Cup’s return to Detroit, including The Captain’s dream finally coming true on a wild Saturday night in the Motor City. An excerpt from the book: 

What Steve Yzerman said the night the Red Wings won the 1997 Stanley Cup: “I was glad when the game was over, but then I didn’t want the game to end.

“I’ve been watching hockey since I was five years old. I always dreamed of the day I would get the Stanley Cup. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever get there. As the game went on, it almost was if I wanted to sit back and watch it.”

GET YOURS NOW!: How to order new book commemorating Red Wings’ 1997 Stanley Cup

On winning the Cup: “It was the one thing in my career I didn’t have. I wanted dearly to have my name on the Stanley Cup before I retired.

“It’s been a wonderful final. It’s been incredibly exhilarating. …

“There’s the Stanley Cup champion and everybody else. When you have a good team for two or three years and don’t win, you’re not considered a great team but an underachiever.”

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On skating with the Cup after the game: “I would have preferred to go with everybody in the beginning. I wanted to go as one big group.

“As I went about halfway around, I thought, ‘This thing is getting heavy.’ My arm about fell off. I was looking for my parents and my wife and a friend in the corner. I wanted to make sure I saw them as I was carrying it around the rink. I just tried to take it all in. … I wasn’t aware of any noise.

“It was the greatest moment in my career, the most gratifying and the most rewarding. … Obviously, at the end when we piled behind the net was the greatest moment. Being on the ice when the game ends is awesome.”

On passing the Cup to Slava Fetisov, who held it with Igor Larionov: “The last couple of days I thought who I wanted to give the Cup to. I thought about Slava. He and Igor, what they stand for, are good examples for younger players.

“He has been through a lot in his career. If he’s not coming back, this is the ultimate. … All five Russian players were significant players and great guys.”

On seeing Scotty Bowman in skates on the ice: “That was great. I’ve seen it all. He doesn’t show emotion. He doesn’t let us get too close to him. For a few minutes there, he was one of us.”

On waiting for Game 4: “The most relaxing time is getting on the ice and playing. Before the game, I was more nervous than for any other game. So much stuff goes through your mind. You want to win. The last day-and-a-half I’ve become so uptight.

“Today was unbelievable. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, and I didn’t want anybody to talk to me. I just wanted to play the game.

“Coming to the game tonight, I said, ‘Just relax, we’re going to win. If it’s Game 4, 5 or 6, we’re going to win.’ But it was nerve-racking.”

On the fans: “I know for the city, it’s pride. You can walk around, and Detroit is the Stanley Cup champion. The fans are the Stanley Cup champions. You can hold your head up high. We broke some hearts, but they kept coming back.”

[ Steve Yzerman won’t give a timeline on Red Wings rebuild. Here’s why ]

On the Wings’ playoff performance: “When we got in the playoffs and played teams in a series, I think we wore teams down. Each team we played we were better than. We weren’t the best team in the regular season.

“The biggest difference in this series is we got goals from all four lines. It allows players to just do their jobs, and goals will come.”

On goalie Mike Vernon, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy: “He was consistently great throughout the playoffs. I don’t know if he let in a bad goal. It boosts your confidence so much. He and Nicklas Lidstrom were our most valuable guys. I’m glad Vernie won.”

On his perspective: “I’m glad we endured, the organization didn’t quit and I didn’t quit or move on. I really think I appreciate it more after playing a number of years.

“There were some tough losses and disappointments and injuries — and I don’t know if I’m a better skater or scorer — but I think I’m a better player by going through it all.”

[ CARLOS MONARREZ: Wings’ 12 picks in 2021 draft need to give Yzerman quantity and quality ]

On coming close before but not winning the Cup: “The last five years there have been a couple of times you don’t want to go out, you don’t want to be recognized. You put a hat on or put sunglasses on. It was embarrassing.

“I was in Las Vegas and a couple of guys from Windsor came by. They said, ‘Hey, Steve Yzerman. I’m going to stay away from this table. There’s no luck here.’”

On what he plans to do when he gets to keep the Cup for a few days this summer: “I ain’t going to sleep with it. I want to have a party. I might have to have two — one here and one in Ottawa. I want to do it up right.”

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