A 'C' of responsibility
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Nashville's Barry Trotz can attest to that.
The only coach Nashville has ever known, Trotz had a great captain in Tom Fitzergerald. The veteran journeyman arrived in Nashville excited about the opportunity to build a hockey tradition in the "Music City."
Trotz rewarded that enthusiasm by naming Fitzpatrick the team's first captain. Fitzpatrick served that role admirably for four years before being traded late last season. Now, to start the 2002-03 season, Trotz was faced with the task of finding a successor. Not an easy process, he explained.
"Our situation was we were replacing Fitzgerald and I think he embodied everything that a captain should be," explained Trotz. "We were looking for certain things from our next captain. To me, a captain is accountable; he speaks for the betterment of the group; he gets the coach's message into the room; and he has a caring attitude while getting and keeping everyone in line."
Trotz says he had five or six candidates in mind at the start of training camp. He interviewed them all during the screening process and evaluated their effort and chemistry during the practice sessions and expansion games before settling on Greg Johnson, an unheralded 31-year-old center.
"In the end, we felt Greg Johnson would embody what the Nashville Predators are all about on and off the ice -- hard work and professionalism," said the coach.
Being named captain, however, is only half the battle. Considering that there can only be 30 NHL captains at one time and there are more than 600 players in the League, the honor is an elite one -- to be cherished for as long as possible.
To remain captain, a player must perform on the ice and keep his team together off the ice. While other players can slip into the background after a bad game or during a slump, the captain remains front and center. Much like a ship's captain, a hockey captain's job is rarely noticed during calm periods, but his performance is constantly scrutinized during times of rough sailing.
He must be able to overcome hardships and convince those around him that the battle is never lost.
The ability to overcome the constant scrutiny and persevere during struggles is one of the things that led Boston coach Robbie Ftorek to name the young Thornton as Boston's captain. Thornton, a No. 1 overall pick, suffered through a difficult first couple of seasons before finding his groove last year. At all times, though, Thornton maintained a professional facade, soldiered on and worked hard to improve his game. Along the way, says Ftorek, he earned the respect of everyone in the dressing room.
"There are a lot of guys who are qualified to do that job on this team," Ftorek said after the announcement was made. "It was something I had to think about quite a bit and do a lot of the pros and cons. When it came down to it, we felt this was the way we wanted to go for the right reasons.
"There's a whole cast of characters in the dressing room, there's no question about that. Joey is able to flow with all of them and it's an important key. He can have an ear to the guy who's not playing, he can have an ear to the guy who's fighting, he can have an ear to the guy who's struggling as a goal scorer or to the defenseman who just got toasted."
Take Andreychuk. The veteran, a sure Hall of Famer at the end of his career, played almost 20 years without being named captain before being picked to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning at the start of this season.
Andreychuk played under some great captains, including current Tampa Bay assistant coach Craig Ramsey in Buffalo, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour in Toronto and Stevens in New Jersey.
And, he obviously learned his lessons well, says Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle.
"I think what's key about Dave is he is one of the guys," explains Boyle. "When he talks, the players listen. We all respect what he has done on the ice and we all respect him off the ice."
And, it is that respect, and the constant challenge of building a team out of 20-plus disparate personalities that makes the pressure-filled job of captaining a NHL franchise not only the most pressure filled, but most rewarding job in all of hockey.