SUN Hockey Pool

Yzerman: Winnipeg could be an option

Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman thinks that Winnipeg is perfect for the NHL.  (REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman thinks that Winnipeg is perfect for the NHL. (REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

Count Steve Yzerman among those who believes the NHL would be wise to return to Winnipeg somewhere down the line.

The new general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning spoke glowingly of the possibility on Monday, just a few days before his club hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in an NHL pre-season game at the MTS Centre Wednesday night.

"I think the current CBA is favourable to small-market teams and a city like Winnipeg, I'm quite confident they could fill their building," Yzerman said in a telephone interview. "I don't know the details of it all, but I think Winnipeg could be a good option for the NHL to put a team into."

The Hockey Hall of Famer has plenty of fond memories from his playing days as a member of the Detroit Red Wings and one that stands out was his NHL debut, which came on Oct. 5, 1983 at Winnipeg Arena against the Winnipeg Jets.

Yzerman managed two points that night, drawing an assist and recording the first of the 692 regular-season goals he would score during his illustrious career.

"I think it was on Doug Soetaert," said Yzerman. "I got a shot from the slot and the rebound kind of bounced around onto my backhand and I chipped it into the open net."

The long-time Red Wings captain was also part of a game most Jets fans would like to forget -- one that came on Apr. 28, 1996, the day the Jets were bounced from the playoffs in what was the final game in franchise history before the team moved to the desert to become the Phoenix Coyotes.

"At the time, we weren't thinking a whole lot about it," said Yzerman. "We were in the playoffs, happy to win a series and already looking ahead to the next series. It didn't have as big an impact on us. But in looking back, obviously Winnipeg is a good hockey market and all in all, it was disappointing for everyone for the team to have to leave."

It's been an exciting year for Yzerman, who was the point man for Canada's men's hockey team that captured the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver with a riveting 3-2 overtime win over the United States.

"It was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had in hockey," said Yzerman, who also won gold as a player in 2002 at Salt Lake City. "There was a lot of time (invested) and a lot of thought that goes into it. Ultimately, when you get there, the entire experience was enjoyable and winning made it even more worthwhile."

To see all of that effort rewarded with a victory on such a grand stage is something Yzerman won't soon forget.

"The whole atmosphere in Vancouver was pretty special for anybody who got to go there -- it was a special two-week period in sports history," said Yzerman. "With us being the last event and Canada having success in a lot of events, as a hockey team we kind of had to do our part and win that game. We were all very proud that the hockey team was able to win the gold.

"That anthem was pretty cool. The building was packed predominantly with Canadian hockey fans and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

After years of seasoning as a valued member of the Red Wings' braintrust, Yzerman has his own NHL team to run and he's been enjoying things so far with the Lightning.

"It's something I've known I wanted to do for a long time," said Yzerman. "In a few months, I've learned a lot."


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