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Tortorella Leadership Series: Part IV

Examining the development of the Blue Jackets leadership group

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

This is the fourth part of a series of articles exploring the concepts of leadership with Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. We talked about what leadership is, how you develop it in players and coaches, and the progression of the Jackets' leaders themselves. You can read Part III HERE.

Are leaders born or can someone become one over time?

Through his many years of coaching, John Tortorella has come to the conclusion that when it comes to those who become leaders on a hockey team, it's a little bit of both.

"I've seen players that didn't have a clue about leadership grow," Tortorella said. "They start playing in the league, get a little bit of a stature and then they decide 'I'm going to take another step. I'm going to add more than just my points and my stature in the room. I'm going to try to help the young guys and I'm going to try to help the coach as a conduit,'…that's being a guy that's going to take the extra step to help people get better."

While this year's roster included countless examples of players who led in different ways, three Blue Jackets players are designated as the official leaders of the team.

Captain Nick Foligno and alternate captains Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky wear the symbols of leadership on their jerseys each game, and each of these players brings their own unique style of leadership to the Jackets' room.


Nick Foligno

After issuing an offseason challenge to Foligno to take care of his game first and then worry about his leadership role within the team, Tortorella saw the captain take "a huge step" this season.

Foligno not only rebounded with a 26-25-51 campaign, he seized the role of being the voice of the team with their head coach and has been named a finalist for the NHL's Mark Messier Leadership Award.

"He feels more confident in his game, he feels more confident in himself," Tortorella said. "He's initiated conversations with me, asking me to change this, that, or 'why are we doing this?' 'Can we do it this way?' It's been a tremendous process."

From his perspective, Foligno has only gotten more comfortable in his role. He's capitalized on skills often described as "transformational leadership", meaning he focuses on his genuine concern for his teammates and the ability to relate with each of them individually.

"I think we're all on the same mission and have a common goal on this team and I want to see us all reach our potential," Foligno said. "I try to get through to each guy on a personal level to then get through to them on a professional level. That's something I've always been like and will continue to be."


Brandon Dubinsky

Ask about Brandon Dubinsky and Tortorella nods with a smile.

"Dubi and I are in the same boat, we've known each other for a long time. We have lacked a filter," Tortorella said. "He and I have talked about this, we're both in the same boat. We have to slow ourselves down sometimes because people can't handle the directness."

Dubinsky came into the season looking to add a degree of approachability to his directive style. With the Jackets' young roster, the veteran center wanted to do less telling others what to do, and more being available for players to seek out his help when they needed it. 

Tortorella saw Dubinsky work very hard at his communication within the team this season. The 31-year-old continues to try to get better at using his filter while not losing the value of his passion in how he interacts.

"Dubi is definitely one of those guys where if you're not playing well he'll be on you," Josh Anderson said. "He'll help you out as a leader on this team. He pushed a lot of guys this year…but he never overly pushed. He was always there when we needed him."


Boone Jenner

Whereas Foligno and Dubinsky have been more vocal in their leadership both with players and the coaching staff, the youngest member of the leadership core, Boone Jenner, leads by example.

"Boone has a tremendous amount of respect for the hierarchy of a locker room," Tortorella said. "I watch him. I think he likes to lead by example and by play. I think when the time is right, and he's not overstepping his bounds, he's going to be more vocal."

Jenner, who served as captain of the Oshawa Generals during his time in the Ontario Hockey League, is someone the Jackets view as part of the leadership group for this team going forward, and developing more of those skills in the player is something Tortorella sees as part of his process.

"We feel he has the opportunity to be a really good leader," Tortorella said. "That's the next step. But I'm not going to push him there. I want him to feel comfortable in the role, and he (already) leads on the ice and is a tremendous example with what he does out there."


Overall, this Jackets group shows that when it comes to leadership, these players found ways to stay true to their strengths while continuing to grow to help their team, and that's just the way Tortorella wants it. 

"If you go into a locker room setting, and pretend to be someone you're really not but you think this is the right way to be a leader, they'll see right through you," Tortorella said. "You still have to be yourself. But grow."

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