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Jackets' leadership eager to grow in second season

Foligno, Jenner and Dubinsky learned hard lessons in a trying 2015-16 season

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

A strong leader's set of responsibilities is an ever-changing target.

One must support a variety of situations and individuals, and manage the emotional highs and lows that are expected in sports.

When Nick Foligno was named captain of the Blue Jackets last summer - and Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky were named alternate captains prior to the season - they didn't expect the challenging season that they lived through.

But with a new season about to start, they are taking to heart how to better lead their team.

And it starts with the captain.

"Nick cares so much about guys individually, to the point where it almost became too much for him (last year)," Dubinsky said. "It's a big thing to be named a captain of a team. You feel the weight of the team is on your shoulders when things are going bad especially, and then through season that we had and individually if you're not doing things the weight just gets heavier and heavier."

Foligno followed an All-Star season in 2013-14 with the lowest even strength shooting percentage of his career (6.55%) last year, and his third-lowest point total when playing a full season.

When last year was over, head coach John Tortorella said he and Foligno had some "pointed" meetings.

"I think he really takes it to his heart that the year he had last year let some people down," Tortorella said. "We all know how Nick's built - he cares. And I really feel from the start of camp, that he's brought more of a business-like attitude to it and wants to redeem himself."

None of this is news to Foligno. He spent the off-season focused on improving himself first and foremost, and in part, setting the example that each Blue Jacket should come to camp in the best shape possible so that they don't let the team or themselves down.

"It was about coming in, skating hard, being physical and I am fully confident in the aspect of (my) offense coming," Foligno said. "It was more about getting that mentality down again, and I feel like I'm doing that."

Tortorella said having a player like Foligno come in this season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder bodes well; at the same time, Dubinsky, who's always played with an abundance of competitiveness, and put up his highest goal total as a Blue Jacket last season, is working on translating his edge into opportunities to lead his teammates.

"I'm an emotional guy, a fiery guy," Dubinsky said. "With a lot of young guys (on the team) it's about helping rather than yelling at a guy or getting on a guy. It's about giving him a pat on the back and telling him 'hey, you can do better.' That's something I can continue to work on and I'm very cognizant of it going into this season."

Tortorella smiled when saying he and Dubinsky "live in the same world" when it comes to the 29-year-old's development as a leader.

"I think we're both learning that you have to have a little bit of a filter some times before you say some things," Tortorella said. "Dubinsky leads with his play. He's the hardest practice player, the hardest-working guy in games. I think he wants to take a step in the next direction and want people to come to him.

"That's when you find what a true leader is - when people feel comfortable saying 'you know what, can you help me with this?' not being afraid that they're going to be barked at all the time."

The third piece of the leadership puzzle, Boone Jenner, comes into this season off a 30-goal year and as the second-youngest to ever wear a letter for the club. Jenner was a captain in Oshawa with the Generals, but he, too, wants to build his leadership abilities beyond what he shows his teammates so far.

"Boone is still a young man understanding what leadership skills are," Tortorella said. "Everyone knows what he does on the ice, how hard he works. I think he's going to learn more (about leadership), especially with some of the kids coming in because that gives you opportunity to be a good leader.

"I think Boone's going to grab a hold of it."

At the end of it all, even with all the talk of "leadership," Dubinsky considers the three a unit that will demand guidance not just from themselves but from many on the team - and that is exactly what Tortorella hopes to see.

"I have voiced it to the team that for us to be a good team, the room eventually has to take over itself. I think we're going to see that," Tortorella said. "I think it's going to be a year of growth. It gives (Foligno, Dubinsky and Jenner) an opportunity to help our younger players and it lends itself for them to grow as leaders, too."


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