Heading toward the dressing room after a recent practice at Joe Louis Arena, the Detroit Red Wings' Steve Yzerman passed a gaggle of young admirers. One of them, a skinny, blonde, buck-toothed girl, looked to be about nine. Yzerman held his stick out to her and asked, "Want this?"
She froze. Of course she wanted the All-Star center's stick. But wouldn't he be smiling if he wanted her to take it? "Take it!" hissed her friend. "Take it!" Finally, as if in a trance, she did, with both hands. Afterward, Yzerman, a genuinely nice fellow who just happens to leave his game face on even when there's no game, wondered aloud if he had upset her.
Shyness and humility are qualities not often associated with professional athletes, just as "division-leading" and "10-points-over-.500" are modifiers seldom applied to the Red Wings. But Yzerman and the Wings are both having exceptional seasons. Detroit is averaging crowds of 19,590 per home game—a testament to the loyalty and tolerance for physical discomfort of several hundred Wings fans, as the Arena has only 19,275 seats. Motown is turned on by coach Jacques Demers's passionate antics behind the bench, and some fans no doubt also come to see Bob Probert, Yzerman's right wing and the NHL's penalty-minutes leader, dispense rough Norris Division justice. But mostly they flock to Red Wings games in hopes of catching an Yzerman offensive display, and No. 19 has obliged them with impressive regularity. At week's end, Yzerman had 37 goals and 44 assists, putting him fourth in the league behind Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky and Chicago's Denis Savard; he had points in 39 of the Wings' first 44 games, and his 22-game scoring streak, which ended Jan. 13, stands as the longest in the league this season.
"Stevie Yzerman is not a self-promoter," says Demers, who made the then 21-year-old his captain before the 1986-87 season. This is an understatement. If Yzerman were any less self-promoting, his tongue would atrophy. Consider the end of a recent interview:
Q.: So, what are you driving these days?
A.: A Pontiac.
Q.: Interesting. One might think a young millionaire like you would opt for a Porsche or Ferrari or something.
A.: Actually, I do drive a Porsche.
Q.: But I thought—
A.: But it's put away. I usually don't drive it past November. I drove the Pontiac today. (Smiling) That's what you asked me, right?