Sports

Steve Yzerman delivers stern message

In the spring of 1997 — a quarter-century ago — the Detroit Red Wings embarked on their quest to end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought.

The Free Press has commemorated that historic quest with a new book: “Stanleytown: The Inside Story of How the Stanley Cup Returned to the Motor City After 41 Frustrating Seasons.”

PREVIOUSLY: DAY 7 — Wings miss ‘great opportunity’ vs. Blues, massive brawl erupts

Day 8: April 23, 1997

The backstory: With two days before Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings and St. Louis Blues spent the first off day in their respective cities, conserving energy, receiving treatment and trying to make as little news as possible with the first-round series deadlocked at two games apiece. Wings coach Scotty Bowman, naturally, would not commit to Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood for Game 5. Only four Blues skated during an optional practice. But captain Steve Yzerman decided he had something to get off his chest from him at Joe Louis Arena. He pointed the finger at himself — and his best-known teammates of him. In retrospect, Yzerman’s comments become part of team lore, leading to perhaps the most important turning point in the 1997 playoff run.

Detroit Red Wings' Steve Yzerman battles St. Louis Blues' Brett Hull during Game 4 of the first round playoff series at the Kiel Center in St. Louis, April 22, 1997.

Game 4 aftermath: Following the embarrassing 4-0 loss at St. Louis, Yzerman decided to speak up in the locker room. Jason La Canfora wrote for the Free Press: “Yzerman usually leads by example, but not when he’s upset with his production of him. He was moved to speak, to vow to do better, to demand more from his fellow star teammates. The message was delivered calmly—yet sternly—for 10 minutes. The Wings listened intently with the sweat of Game 4 still dripping from their brows. Their captain didn’t want them to forget the hollow feeling of not taking command of their first-round series and of not giving a full effort.” After the next day’s practice, Yzerman told reporters: “We’ve just got to play harder. Our top players have got to play harder. We’ve got to produce and lead the team.” At the time, Yzerman had one point in four games. Brendan Shanahan had two. Sergei Fedorov, Slava Kozlov, Darren McCarty, Tomas Sandstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov were scoreless. The Wings had five goals; the lowest scoring team in a six-game series was the 1951 Boston Bruins with five goals. So if Grant Fuhr posted two more shutouts …

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