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Steve Yzerman: Would've been 'a long life' without the Stanley Cup

Mark Falkner
The Detroit News
June 7, 1997: Captain Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings swept the Philadelphia Flyers to win their first Stanley Cup since 1955. (Dave Guralnick/Detroit News)

Before the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years and before Steve Yzerman ended his 14-year drought without winning the Cup, the longtime captain, NHL Hall of Famer and current general manager said it would've been "a long life" if he hadn't accomplished his goal.

Yzerman made the comment on a Facebook Live interview on Wednesday with color analysts Mickey Redmond and Darren Pang and play-by-play announcer Ken Daniels preceding Fox Sports Detroit's rebroadcast of the Red Wings' Stanley Cup-clinching Game 4 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at Joe Louis Arena in 1997.

Steve Yzerman was on a Facebook Live interview on Wednesday with Mickey Redmond, Darren Pang and Ken Daniels preceding Fox Sports Detroit's rebroadcast of the Red Wings' Stanley Cup-clinching Game 4 victory at Joe Louis Arena in 1997. (Fox Sports Detroit screen grab)

"Detroit was our home," Yzerman said. "In '96, (wife) Lisa and I had bought a lot here in the area and we were going to build our home that we were going to live in. I think after '96, I'm like, oh my God, this is going to be a long life if we don't win the Stanley Cup here. We're going to have to rethink this plan. After '97, it was like, thank God. That's what I wanted to accomplish. I needed to to accomplish this and I'll never ultimately be satisfied with my career if we don't win the Stanley Cup."

Pang, who is Yzerman's friend going back to their days growing up in the Ottawa area and also the rinkside reporter that night when the Wings swept the Flyers in four straight games, remembers Yzerman carrying the Stanley Cup into the team's parking lot after the postgame celebrations and trying to fit the Cup into his Porsche 911.

"I had a small rental car," Pang said. "You had the Porsche 911. You couldn't fit the Cup in yours. We almost put it into mine. I think you might've looked at it. It might've been a Pontiac something and you went, 'No, that's not going to happen.' Somehow you fit everyone. You probably squeezed Lisa up front a little bit with the Cup in the back. I remember thinking, 'I almost drove off with the Stanley Cup in a crappy rental car.'"

Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman lifts the Stanley Cup after beating the Flyers 2-1 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena in 1997. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)

Before they left the parking lot around 1 a.m., Pang said Yzerman asked a security guard if Mike and Marian Ilitch were still up in their suite. They walked upstairs and handed the Cup to the owners, who bought the team for $8 million in 1982 and wound up winning three Cups in six years with Yzerman as captain of the storied franchise.

"You think you're going to party and go wild but we were exhausted, I was exhausted after the game," Yzerman said. "Actually, in the old locker room, we had an area where we would hang our gear, back in the corner where we would take our suits off and put our shorts and stuff on. Our room was a zoo. It was small and had to be a hundred degrees. Panger, myself and Lisa just sat in the back corner, back there, just quiet. Actually, I ended up just having a Coke. I was thirsty, I was tired and mentally exhausted.

"It's the quiet moments you remember the most. Finally, eventually that night, I don't think we got home until 5 or 6 a.m. Everybody went to bed and I couldn't sleep. I put the Cup on the island in my kitchen and just sat there and just read all the names from all the years and looked at the Stanley Cup. It was 6 in the morning, the sun is coming up and it was a great time. The celebrations are fun but the moments you get to spend looking at the Cup, the names ...  the dents -- we put a couple of those in there, Panger, but we won't talk about. You know what I'm talking about. So much history to it. They were great moments."

Here are other highlights from Yzerman's conversation with Pang, Redmond and Daniels.

Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Lindros roughs up Detroit Red Wings' Vladimir Konstantinov during the final minutes of Detroit's 4-2 victory over the Flyers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 31, 1997, in Philadelphia.

On facing the Legion of Doom in the '97 final: "Going into the series, we heard everything about the big Flyers and they were big. They were the favorites but we were comfortable and we felt we matched up reasonably well against them. The only thing is we didn't really have an answer for Eric Lindros' line with (John) LeClair and (Mikael) Renberg. They were big huge guys and I didn't know how we were going to play against these guys and didn't really know how to stop them. That was kind of unknown for us. 

"Before the playoffs, we weren't necessarily firing on all cylinders. Each round, once we got into the series with each team after the first couple of games, I remember thinking, we can beat these guys. Once we got into the Flyers' series, we did win Game 1 and going into Game 2, we kind of felt like, you know what, we can beat these guys."

Philadelphia Flyers center John LeClair skates away from Detroit Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov during the Stanley Cup Finals on June 5, 1997, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

On Vladimir Konstantinov's role: "Everybody assumed that Vladdy would go head-to-head with Lindros' line. At that time, Eric was one of a kind. He was 235 pounds and if you were just going to go muscle against muscle, we didn't have anyone who could match up with him really. As hard as Vladdy was and Vladdy would've given everything he had but Vladdy was 190 pounds. But that would've been tough.

"Practicing against Nick (Lidstrom) and Murph (Larry Murphy) as a pair, you got a sense for it in scrimmage. They would hold on to the puck and they would back off, back off and wait for you to come forecheck them. Just when you were about to get to them, they would pass it 80 or 100 feet up the ice and you just ended up backchecking. They were really hard to play against and kind of neutralized the big, strong Legion of Doom line."

On taking faceoffs against Lindros: "For me, it was difficult. He was so strong. His big stick off the faceoff. He literally would rip the stick out of your hands. If you watch this game, watch the last four minutes, there were four or five faceoffs in the neutral zone and I had no chance of winning any of them. Eventually, I just gave up and assumed they were winning them and getting into a defensive position.

"I couldn't defend him physically. I had no chance. I left it up to the D. I think Scotty (Bowman) probably used Sergei's (Fedorov) line a little bit more against Eric in that series. I don't recall off the top of my head. Sergei is big enough and strong enough on the puck and more of a puck possession type of player than myself. I think that was more of Scotty's matchup at that point."

Steve Yzerman holds up the Stanley Cup during a victory parade in Detroit on June 10, 1997.

On failing to win the Stanley Cup: "Honestly, by '96-'97, we stopped even thinking about it. In '96 when we won 62 games, it was kind of a special season. We're wrapping up with all of these records and ultimately you don't win the Cup so it doesn't really mean anything. It's a little bit embarrassing after the fact. The '96-'97 season, we weren't even thinking about winning the Stanley Cup.

"I don't think we were the favorites going in. With each round of the playoffs we would get into it the middle of it and I would say, you know what, I think we can win this series. We kind of had given up so maybe that helped a little bit, the focus of being on the Cup or wondering, is this our year, is this our year. Obviously, it happened, finally."

On finally winning the Cup: "It was an incredible sense of relief. Simply, it was ultimate joy. It was something I had dreamed about. With each year, there was more desperation, more desperation and honestly, after '96, you're like, we had just had this incredible year, maybe we're never going to win this thing."

Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Federov, Vladamir Konstantinov and Slava Kozlov, "The Russian Five."

On the Russian Five: "Once they threw them out there, it changed the whole outlook of our team. They played a completely different way and I know it was frustrating practicing against them in scrimmage. Scotty didn't use them all the time. Occasionally, he would put them together and they would take over a game.

"Sergei was incredibly talented, Kozzie (Slava Kozlov) was vastly underrated, Vladdy was not just an incredible competitor but he was also scoring goals and Igor (Larionov), as a kid, I watched him play in the Olympics and he and Slava (Fetisov) were legends. They were really good teammates and they took great pride in winning the Stanley Cup. We wouldn't have won without those guys."

On the physical nature of the team: "That was maybe the biggest difference from the '97-'98 teams and the teams from '96, '95 and '94. All of a sudden you had Joey Kocur, who was 220 pounds, Darren McCarty was roughly 220, Shanny (Brendan Shanahan) was close to 220, Marty Lapointe was 220, Tomas Sandstrom was 215 or so and on the blueline Rouser (Bob Rouse) and Slava Fetisov were big, heavy bodies.

"In these playoffs, every single line we put out there had a big, strong powerful guy. We weren't going to run you out of the building but as the series wore on, instead of us getting worn down and beat up, the other team was losing bodies. When guys are crashing together, something gives eventually.

"In '95, everyone knows we got swept in four games by New Jersey. Nobody cares and it's not an excuse but we had so many injuries. We played poorly and Jersey was just this big, strong, powerful team with a great goalie and they defended really well and were a really good team. They were bigger and stronger than us and they wore us out."

Darren McCarty scored the Cup-clinching goal against the Flyers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.

On Darren McCarty's game-winning goal in Game 4: "All season long, Scotty harped on don't turn the puck over at the blueline. Mac did that move all year long and it never worked and he turned it over all the time. I said Mac, would you not do that because we're not going to get on the ice if we get scored on. Sure enough, I'm right behind him and here he goes again. He does that move and it works and he scores. Mac never listened to anybody. It was a fantastic goal.

"Again, it was destiny. It was our fate to win. Everybody contributed. You go through the whole four rounds of the playoffs, when you go through all those games, somebody did something special that made a difference in a game, in a series. On that goal, I couldn't keep up with him. It was the fastest he's ever skated in his career. He sprinted down the ice and high-fived half the rink. It was an incredible goal. Good for him."

mfalkner@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @falkner