Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Y

It's a difficult prospect ... navigating the New York State Thruway with tears in your eyes.
Then again, the warning label on the big bottle of life states quite clearly: "Do not operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery while learning of Stevie Y's retirement."

Such were the circumstances Monday when, as we zipped along I-90 somewhere between the exit for Batavia and Rochester, the rumours and whispers became official.
Steve Yzerman ... "Stevie Y" ... the guy who I had predicted would still be wearing the captain's "C" on his Detroit Red Wings sweater seven or eight years from now when I watched him on TV from my hospital bed during the first of my two final acts of lucidity (the second would be to sign the papers finalizing my second divorce) ... well, he's called it a career.
The announcement wasn't a shocker and the drama wasn't quite on par with Lou Gehrig telling the Yankee Stadium crowd that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.
Like the Iron Horse, though, Yzerman epitomized the "aw, shucks/let's-not-talk-about-me" heroism which made him an icon around Haystack Headquarters.

As a week's worth of travels in lands not totally adjacent to the Haystack Hideout concluded for me n' the Mrs. n' SuperDawg, Stevie Y's retirement news conference brought to the forefront our faith in trusty #19.
So, after we listened to the entire press conference broadcast by ESPN News for Sirius Radio and, we opted NOT to park the car in the nearest Rest Area for prayer, hymns and reaffirmation of the aforementioned faith, but rather to articulate our reflections of a playing career and a captaincy which has survived through hundreds of marriages far more flimsy than ours.
Marriages which, no doubt, failed because spouses failed to identify who would wear the captain's "C" on his/her sweater.
(Note: I wear the "A" on my sweater because my sweetheart is the take-charge type -- and because her slapper from the top of the slot is more lethal than my wrister from inside the face-off circle)

The irony here is that just two days earlier, the Mrs., on a whim, purchased a Steve Yzerman paperback bio ... "Yzerman: The Making of a Champion" by Douglas Hunter, a fairly-informative chronicle of the Captain's professional career without the aid of actual Yzerman quotes (which Stevie Y refused to grant).
As I steered our vehicle homeward, my sugar plum read passages that left me informed and entertained.
Yup ... "info-tained" was I.

Upon our arrival home, the Stevie Y artifacts which serve as decor were more apparent than they'd been in their previous state as "backdrops."
They include:
The Stevie Y bobblehead perched on the fireplace mantel (which arrived via UPS the day after the Red Wings won the Cup in '02 ... and I'll be good n' dadgummed if the face on his bobblehead, unlike the slightly-amateurish facial recreations of most other bobbleheads, doesn't look exactly like Stevie Y) ...
The framed Sports Illustrated souvenir-issue cover photo of Stevie Y hoisting the Cup after the Wings won it in '98 (with the headline: "The Cup Stays Here"), an artifact which hangs on the wall between the guest bedroom and the guest bathroom (the Mrs. treated me to Game 3 of that four-game sweep of the Capitals) ...
The small, wooden replica hockey stick with Stevie Y's autograph on the blade (a relic from Hockeytown -- with one of those letters of authenticity -- which the Mrs. procured for me some years ago) ...
The framed, limited-edition artwork of Stevie Y which my mother-in-law gave me a few birthdays ago (which she purchased from a collectibles store operated by a Hockey Hall of Famer who told me that he can get Stevie Y to autograph ANYTHING that I need him to sign, though I haven't taken him up on the offer because whaddya think I am -- a stalker with a man-crush? C'mon ...)

And then there's the framed photo of Steve Y from the collectibles folks at Beckett ... the June 1996 cover of a helmet-less Yzerman following through on a shot (a modest piece of artwork which has been on the wall ever since the Mrs. and I began living together 10 years ago).
Mrs. PF7 and I still chuckle when we recall the time when she took me to my first hockey game and, 19 seconds after the opening faceoff, Stevie Y lit the lamp by flicking the the disk into the back of the net.
The memory was bittersweet, however, because the victimized goalie was someone who had befriended my girl and then was a gracious host to me during my first-ever trip to Canada.
No, it wasn't Ron Tugnutt, Darcy Wakaluk or Pokey Reddick.
But, yes ... it was disheartening to witness a fantastic individual with a super family fall prey to a few fatsos and jackasses yelling from their seats, "You suck, (Tugnutt! Wakaluk! Reddick!)" and "Get him outta there!" after Stevie Y scored.

Thanks for dividing my loyalties, Cap'n.

In the day-after aftermath of the icon's retirement, I spent an hour or so organizing my Stevie Y trading cards manufactured by Fleer, Upper Deck, Pro Set, O-Pee-Chee, et al. ...
All 144 of 'em.
I'm no diehard collector of cards (meaning that I wouldn't be caught dead walking into the local shops and asking the proprietor, "Say, do you have the Yzerman Fleer Ultra '93-'94 #201?" let alone forking over $25 for some so-called, mint-condition "Second-Year Stars" or "Legends Of The Cup" cards which are over-protected by a thin plastic sleeve within a firm plastic sheath) ...
But, I've always avidly tried to do my part to spread the Stevie Y gospel without revealing that a man-crush MAY be in play.

Amassing 144 cards is one of the components of "doing my part," although the number "144" can be misleading because last week, I noticed that I have 16 cards of one-time Sabres goalie Martin Biron.
Something's fundamentally wrong with any collection which has double-digit Martin Biron cards.
(Note: A grievance has been filed) ...

The Mrs. and I always admired Stevie Y for his all-out playing style before he spent the postgame time either saying very little or casting his eyes downward and giving not too much more than stock quotes.
We have no guarantee that Stevie Y didn't tick off some sportswriters or rub some teammates the wrong way ... or maybe even brush past a young autograph seeker at The Joe.
Still, that didn't stop me from approaching my day-to-day decision-making with the mindset of, "How would Stevie Y handle this?"
I mean, there have been times when I've picked up a wastebasket at the Haystack Hideout and I've lifted the receptacle overhead, y'know ... just as a trial run for lifting the Cup in case it ever happens in the real world one day.

So, now we exist in the post-apocalyptic world of "Life After Stevie Y."
This much is clear: Life after Yzerman is guaranteed to be a greater hardship than life was after the Red Wings dealt away Paul Ysebaert.
A world without Ysebaert felt empty and incomplete.
Now, without Yzerman's on-ice skill and decision-making, a lot of us will find it that much harder to steer clear of danger ...

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