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Yzerman makes final stop at The Joe: 'I loved playing here'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Steve Yzerman wasn’t planning on taking a souvenir out of Joe Louis Arena on Friday.

The legendary, Hall of Fame former Red Wings player had so many stored away already.

“Not likely,” Yzerman said of whether he was taking anything. “If we can get the two points (victory) that would be a nice way to get out of here.

“I have tremendous memories that I’ll always have and nothing is better than those.”

Yzerman is now general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Friday marked his final game at Joe Louis Arena before the Red Wings move into the new Little Caesars Arena next season.

Yzerman was concentrating more on his own Lightning, truth be told.

Tampa is outside of the playoff picture, entering Friday’s game three points out of a spot. This game meant a lot to the Lightning’s postseason possibilities.

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But even so, Yzerman felt the uniqueness of the game, with so few left at Joe Louis Arena.

“I see a lot of the same people when you walk in the door, a lot of the same people that have been here virtually the entire time I was here,” Yzerman said. “It’s a little different.”

Wearing nothing but a Red Wings sweater throughout his storied career was a highlight, as well.

“I take great pride in that,” Yzerman said. “I loved playing here, I loved playing in Detroit, it was real special for me to be a Red Wing my entire career, and I was really lucky, actually, to be able to do that.

“There’s a lot of luck involved and timing comes into it and we did a lot of winning, and as a team wins, they want to keep it together and that’s probably one of the big reasons I was here.”

The memories are many, but what Yzerman will always appreciate about Joe Louis Arena was its “simplicity.”

In an era of spanking, new palaces with every possible luxury, Joe Louis Arena stood apart.

But that was all right.

“There’s a lot of things, it’s just the simplicity of the building which was what was great about it,” Yzerman said. “And why it lasted so long.

“The fans, the atmosphere in the building, the fans are right on top of you. I liked the ice surface, the ice was always good. The boards were good, they had a little bit of cushion to them.

“As a player, all the things that were important to a player, this building had.”

And, then, the memories.

The Stanley Cup-clinching victories in 1997 and 2002 (the 1998 clincher was in Washington).

The critical playoff victories. Overtime winners. The nights sellout crowds roared over regular season highlights, that became almost a nightly event.

“I loved playing here,” Yzerman said. “I loved being in the building. Obviously I had a lot of very exciting moments, and every now and then you sit back and see a highlight on television or a game on television and all those and that brings back memories.

“A lot of memories. The Stanley Cups, obviously, winning and getting the trophy twice here, the two Stanley Cups (won here) were the most exciting.”

As the Red Wings are in the process of moving out of Joe Louis Arena, their 25-year streak of making of the playoffs is also ending.

The Red Wings are all but mathematically eliminated, out of the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Many of those playoff seasons included Yzerman either as a player or part of general manager Ken Holland’s staff.

“Everyone in Detroit should be proud of it,” Yzerman said of the playoff streak. “It’s incredibly difficult to make the playoffs in this league and going back (to 1990-91), this team was a legitimate competitor for the Stanley Cup for a lot of years.

“It wasn’t just a 4- or 5-year span, it’s been over a 20-year span and legitimate contenders for the Cup.

“Kenny has done a tremendous job of managing the team and keeping it competitive on a yearly basis.” @tkulfan