On Friday it was Wayne Gretzky who took the stage at Molson Canadian Hockey House, honoured for his years of service to Canadian hockey. One day later, it was another Canadian legend’s turn in the spotlight.
Steve Yzerman, in Vancouver to serve as executive director of Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team, was the guest of honour on Saturday afternoon as Hockey Canada feted him for his more than 25 years of service to Canada’s game, and for his recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
And while his focus is on the 2010 Games, and Canada’s Group A decider against the United States on Sunday at Canada Hockey Place, Yzerman couldn’t help but look back at his own golden moment – Canada’s Olympic win at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“We really didn’t know how big it was, how much it meant to Canada,” Yzerman said of the win that sparked parties in the streets from Victoria to St. John’s. “It wasn’t until we got out of the arena and started calling family and friends that we started to hear what was going on back home.”
Knowing the celebration that the 2002 gold caused, Yzerman said he could only imagine what winning gold on home ice would do to the country, but he knows what it would do to the 23 players wearing the maple leaf in Vancouver.
“I know a lot of these guys have won Stanley Cups, and know how that feels, and winning gold at the Olympics would be right up there,” said Yzerman, who won three Cups during his 22 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. “It’s not something most players will ever be able to experience.”
With hundreds of fans passing up a gorgeous Saturday afternoon to come inside Molson Canadian Hockey House and be a part of the ceremony, Yzerman was quick to recognize the dedication of Canadian hockey fans and the role they play in Canada’s quest for gold.
Crowds at Canada Hockey Place and UBC Thunderbird Arena for men’s and women’s games have been a sea of red and white since the first puck dropped on February 13, and the stands at other events in Vancouver and Whister have been awash with the Team Canada jersey.
“These guys are so proud to put on the jersey and go out and play for their country, and a lot of it is because of the passion and love of the game that they see from you fans,” Yzerman said. “They want to get this done for Canada.”
The ceremony was part of a new Hockey Canada tradition of recognizing alumni that have made an impact on the international stage and have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Luc Robitaille, who joined Yzerman as part of the HHOF Class of 2009, was honoured in Los Angeles in December.