MONTREAL – It seems to follow him everywhere he goes. From his junior days to the national team to this day in Hamilton. It’s the captain’s “C” and it would seem to be right at home on Kyle Chipchura’s jersey.
Without a team captain for the first month of the season, head coach Don Lever handed 22-year-old the letter of leadership in the beginning of November. Though it’s familiar territory for Chipchura, who became the 10th captain in franchise history, being awarded the captaincy isn’t something he takes lightly.
“It’s always an honor to be captain and I’m proud to be captain,” he acknowledged. “We had a good talk, me and Donny [Don Lever]. It means a lot and I’ll take that challenge on.”
Lever knew the centerman was ready to do so. It was part of the reason a month passed before confirming the news. He wanted to see what his squad had to offer and at the same time, Chipchura was still in Montreal. Once he was returned to Hamilton, Lever had his man.
“I knew if he was going to come back, it would be good for us,” said Lever. “He leads by example on the ice and is solid off the ice and in the room.”
It’s been that way throughout his career. He’s been captain of his junior team, the Prince Albert Raiders, assistant captain for Team Canada at both the 2003 Under-18 Junior World Cup and 2004 Under-18 World Championship, and of course, captain at the 2006 World Junior Championship, where he led Canada to a gold medal.
Despite his experience, Lever made sure the Westlock, Alberta native didn’t try to overcompensate now that the letter would adorn his jersey.
“I told him that it’s important to concentrate on his game as much as the room. He’s the pulse of the room and you don’t want him to hurt his game by doing more than he needs to.”
And right now, Chipchura is doing what he needs to – focus on the Bulldogs and what he can control.
“You just have to keep working and keep improving,” he said. “The AHL is a league where you can improve a lot as a player. The more you worry about call-ups and all that, it seems to get in the way of your improvement as a player, and that just leads to frustration.”
In his third season in Hamilton, Lever has seen the Habs’ first round pick in 2004 take strides over the years and feels he’s close to reaching the next step.
“He’s gotten stronger and his skating is better,” noted Lever. “He still has to work on his faceoffs but his overall game has improved. He’s the type of guy who excels when he has a defined role.”
Given his past history with the “C” on his jersey, that’s good news for the Bulldogs.