Although the two centers managed the same feat on the same date, the only other thing they had in common was that their teams won by one goal that night. Yzerman captained the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche, and Nieuwendyk’s New Jersey Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1.
For Yzerman, he found it particularly special to celebrate at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, where 19,983 fans “erupted in a way normally reserved for an overtime playoff goal.” It also just happened to be the Avalanche’s first time playing there. Whereas, Nieuwendyk scored his milestone goal away at Raleigh.
During each game, Yzerman scored the second goal of the game at 7:52 of the second period while Nieuwendyk scored the first goal of the game at 11:18 of the first period. On a power play, as the Detroit Free Press described it, “Yzerman circled to the slot while linemate Greg Johnson dug the puck off the boards over goalie Patrick Roy’s left shoulder. Roy used his pad to reject Yzerman’s shot from close range. But the rebound bounced toward Yzerman, and he backhanded the puck into an open net.” Yzerman reminisced, “You know, my first goal was kind of like that, too, sort of a rebound and a backhand.” As for Nieuwendyk’s goal, the Hackensack Record noted, “It started when he picked off an errant pass by Carolina’s Glen Wesley along the right wing boards in the neutral zone. Nieuwendyk moved from his right to left as he carried over the Canes’ blue line and went around defenseman Sean Hill in the left circle before cutting hard to the net. After deking Kevin Weekes on his forehand, he pulled the puck to his backhand and reached around the Carolina goaltender to deposit it in the net.” Nieuwendyk explained, “I caught the puck in the neutral zone in strike and I knew I had an opportunity to break in. I hadn’t made up my mind what I was going to do until the last second, but when I saw it go in I was extremely happy.”
In celebration, Yzerman “raised his stick over his head – as he had 499 other times in his 13-year career.” Nieuwendyk only reacted with a “slight pump of his arms,” saying, “That’s probably about as animated as I’ll get.” Just as Yzerman felt “simply happiness,” Nieuwendyk was “awfully pleased” because “it’s a big thrill.” According to Yzerman, “I didn’t feel relief at all because I’ve been enjoying all the buildup leading up to it the last couple of weeks.” When their teams mobbed them to celebrate on the ice, Yzerman smiled widely while Nieuwendyk yelled at them to “get back on the bench.” However, Nieuwendyk later commented, “That was quite a scene, all those guys coming out there like that. That was awfully nice of them.” He also planned to keep the puck, stick, and game sheet for his son, which he said would “be something they’ll keep forever.”
It was Yzerman’s 19th goal of the season. Nieuwendyk began the season six goals away from 500 but had a 20-game drought. It had been four games since he scored his 498th and 499th goals (on January 7).
Both players had long careers. Yzerman played for Detroit through 22 seasons, and he was only the seventh player to score all 500 with one team. Meanwhile, Nieuwendyk played on five different teams throughout his 20 seasons. His 500th was during the only full season he played for New Jersey. Yzerman’s 500th came during game 906 of a career total of 1,514 regular-season games. Nieuwendyk took 1,094 games of his career 1,257 to reach 500. The former ranks 9th on the all-time goals list while the later is tied for 23rd. The two were inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame two years apart, 2009 and 2011, respectively.
- Keith Gave, “500 for the Captain,” Detroit Free Press, 18 Jan. 1996, p. 1D and 5D.
- Mitch Albom, “It’s the best kind of applause – for one who deserves it so,” Detroit Free Press, 18 Jan. 1996, p. 1D.
- Tom Gulitti, “Devils Celebrate Joe’s 500th,” Hackensack Record, 18 Jan. 2003, p. S1 and S3.