And a youngster shall lead them
When it comes time to picking a captain, most coaches lean on a seasoned veteran to lead their teams. Old pros like Mark Messier, Scott Stevens, Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis are perfect choices because they know what it takes to get through the rigors and grind of an NHL season.
But they aren't the only leadership route to take, as Robbie Ftorek and the Boston Bruins have proven.
After his team had gone the majority of the previous season without an official on-ice leader, Ftorek turned to 23-year-old Joe Thornton, one of the NHL's emerging young stars, to be Boston's official captain. Last season, the Bruins traded Jason Allison, then the team captain, to the Los Angeles Kings. Ftorek opted not to name a replacement at the time.
"I was hoping to name a captain this year and I was waiting for someone to rise to the occasion," Ftorek explained. "Joe's done a real good job of that in various ways -- the way he handles himself in the dressing room, the way he prepared himself for this season and, obviously, the way he leads on the ice."
Even though he's only in his early 20s, Ftorek and the Bruins are banking that the rugged Thornton will follow in the skate-steps of other Boston greats like Johnny Bucyk, Dit Clapper, Milt Schmidt, Wayne Cashman, Terry O'Reilly and Ray Bourque.
"The Bruins have always left the naming of their captain to the head coach and I think that Robbie Ftorek has made an excellent choice," Bruins General Manager Mike O'Connell said when Thornton was handed the "C" earlier this season. "He took his time after becoming head coach of our team to get to know the players and the dynamics of the dressing room in order to make the proper selection."
To say that Thornton is proud to wear the distinguished letter would be a tremendous understatement. The Bruins' young gun is the League's youngest captain at 24, with Anaheim's Paul Kariya, Montreal's Saku Koivu and the Islanders' Michael Peca next in line at 28.
But just because he's only been in the NHL a short period of time doesn't mean Thornton's oblivious to the tradition of the Original Six franchise.
"I was very excited and very honored when Robbie told me," Thornton said. "You see the guys that have been captain of this team and it's a little mind-boggling that I'm going to be one of them. It's a huge honor for me."
And O'Connell feels it's an honor that's well deserved by the Boston forward.
At the moment, Thornton admits as a captain he is a work in progress.
"I'm not quite sure what my style (of leadership) will be," Thornton said. "I always go out and play my hardest and to the best of my ability on the ice and I will try to lead by example. It will help me knowing that we have a lot of leadership in our dressing room. We have guys that have played a lot of years in this League and that will make it easier."
While it sounds like a storybook romance, Thornton's road to becoming the Bruins' leader was anything but easy.