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Captain Louie

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
.01 seconds. That's how long it took Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo to accept the Canucks captaincy when it was offered to him by coach Alain Vigneault in early September.

That's pretty speedy, to say the least, but for Luongo the decision was a no-brainer.

"This is a tremendous honor and I'm really looking forward to the challenge," said Luongo during Tuesday's press conference.

"I think I'm ready and it's something that excites me and I'm ready for that responsibility. I feel that even though last year I didn't have a letter, I was part of the leadership group with all these guys up here with me and a lot of other guys that are in the dressing room, so it's just an honor to be asked that question so I didn't take any time answering."

The announcement of Luongo as the new captain, and the 12th in team history, came as a bit of a shock as NHL rule 14.D stipulates that "No playing Coach or playing Manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as Captain or Alternate Captain," yet Louie won't be sporting a C on his jersey.

Instead Vancouver will play with three alternate captains and they too were revealed on Tuesday. Defencemen Willie Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund and forward Ryan Kesler were each named as assistant captains, ending the team's search for leadership.

"None of these players that are in front of you today need a letter to lead, they've been doing that since the beginning of training camp," said Vigneault. "None of these four individuals in front of you had letters last year and they were doing a great job leading.

"I really feel that it's their opportunity right now to impact the culture of our dressing room, they've been doing that since the beginning of camp and I'm confident that each one of these guys will do that as the season moves forward."

The selection process to find a captain was a long one for the Canucks, one that began when Vancouver's coaches got together in August to brainstorm the upcoming season. It was then that the team's vacant captaincy was first discussed and when Vigneault and company started looking into how other successful franchises, regardless of the sport, handle their leadership duties.

Further meetings ensued as Vigneault and GM Mike Gillis met on a regular basis before the season started, they mutually came to the conclusion that Luongo was the best man for the job, based on the characteristics they were looking for in a new captain.

From there Vigneault met with Louie at the beginning of September, offering him the role of captain and all the responsibilities that go along with it. Luongo was quick to accept and the pair kept the decision between themselves until today.

Everyone attending the press conference was joyfully taken aback by the announcement, much the same way new assistant captain Mitchell was when he first heard the news.

"I was a little bit surprised, but then right away you realize that it's the right choice," said Mitchell. "I say that because I don't know why it's in place that a goalie can't be captain, we'll find out probably, you guys will find out for us, but you look at soccer, keepers are captains in soccer. You look at baseball, [Jason] Varitek, a catcher, he's the captain, so why can't your best player be your leader and your captain?

"I don't see any reason why he can't and like I said earlier, I think he's assumed that role already for two years with this team and now obviously the coach and management have announced that and we're excited about it."

Kesler and Ohlund also shared Mitchell's positive views on Luongo replacing departed Canuck Markus Naslund as captain, it became apparent to them last year, especially during the tough late stages of the season, that Louie is a natural born leader.

"The more comfortable he is, the more he speaks in the room," said Kesler. "Last year was a big example of it, things weren't going right and we were losing and he started to speak up more and more in the locker room which is what you want from your captain and he'll do more of it this year."

"Roberto, whether he's been wearing a C or not, has been a big part of our team," added Ohlund. "He's not like most goaltenders, he's very vocal, he takes charge and for us it makes sense to have him being the captain. Obviously the three of us, and other guys too, are going to have to help him and make sure it's a team thing."

Pressure is commonplace with being the captain of an NHL team, or any professional sports team for that matter, but Luongo, barely ten minutes into his tenure as captain, brushed off questions about the added pressure because he puts himself under enough as it is.

"I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to begin with and you guys see what kind of scrums are in front of me every night anyway, so there isn't going to be a difference for me at all," said Luongo, adding that it won't change the way he handles himself before or during games.

"I'm used to dealing with that and if anything the added pressure that I put on myself to take responsibility will be even more now, as is not letting my teammates down on any given night. "

Only the logistics of Luongo being Vancouver's captain remained to be discussed at the press conference following the announcement, there are certain duties those wearing a C must fulfill, yet coach Vigeault already has that planned out.

"The two things that Roberto can't do is A - have a C on his sweater, and the second one, he mentioned it to us yesterday, he can't take the ceremonial face-off for a special event," Vigneault joked. "That being said we can name him captain and in my mind and in Mike's [Gillis] mind it's the right thing to do, whether it be unusual or not.

"Opening face-offs will be done by Mattias because he's the longest running Canuck, and since William likes to talk the most, we'll have him talk to the referee."

Since coming to Vancouver three seasons ago, Luongo has demonstrated outstanding leadership for the Canucks and a commitment to win that is second to none.

Now that he's officially captain none of that will change, if anything Louie will step up his game and become the face of the franchise even more, an exciting prospect if ever there was one.

Official Press Release
The Captain Conundrum
A New Year

2.33 - Luongo's goals against average since joining the team two seasons ago

12 - Luongo is the 12th player to captain the Canucks

47 - Number of wins recorded by Luongo in 06-07, a club record

149 - Number of regular season games played in Vancouver by Louie

  1997 - The year Luongo was drafted by the New York Islanders

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