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Luongo makes NHL's shortlist for the Messier Leadership Award

by Rocky Bonanno / Vancouver Canucks

There are 27 full-time captains employed in the 30-team NHL, but there are countless leaders throughout the League.

Their leadership can be recognized in numerous ways, some not always easy to quantify.

The Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone has been awarded since 2006-07 and is presented "to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season."

The honor is named for Mark Messier, one of the finest leaders in NHL history who was a six-time Stanley Cup champion and is one of three players to have captained three different teams.

Suggestions for nominees are solicited from fans, clubs and NHL personnel, but the selection of the three finalists and the ultimate winner is picked by Mark Messier himself.

Until April 4, readers can vote weekly among three players and attempt to sway Messier's decision on who will be the finalists for the 2009-10 Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone. Voting for Week 4 is under way and runs through March 28.

Starting April 5, the five weekly winners will be pitted against each other in the final reader poll.

Previous winners of the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone are Chris Chelios of Detroit (2006-07), Mats Sundin of Toronto (2007-08) and Jarome Iginla of Calgary (2008-09).

Your Week 4 candidates are:

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings -- Though Brown is only 25 years old, he is the symbolic and emotional leader on a Los Angeles roster that currently features 17 players his senior. But Brown isn't your ordinary youngster. He's now in his sixth season after debuting in 2003-04 as an 18-year-old.

On Oct. 8, 2008, Brown was named the 15th captain in franchise history. He became the youngest captain and the first U.S.-born captain in Kings history.

"Dustin has impressed me a great deal with his leadership," said coach Terry Murray. "He comes to the rink each day prepared and his on-ice work shows a great deal of focus. He has total commitment to this team."

With grit and determination, Brown has the Kings poised to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season. "Everyone understands how important each and every game is now, and that might have not been the case last year with some of the young guys," Brown said. "We have a really good locker room, we all are very close with each other and that makes things a lot easier. We just come together and we know what needs to be done to be successful."

Los Angeles management isn't the only group that recognizes Brown's leadership qualities. He was one of four alternate captains for the United States at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and won a silver medal.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks -- There is no other captain in the NHL today like Luongo, as he is the only goaltender to carry the designation. In fact, when Luongo was named team captain Sept. 30, 2008, he became the first goalie to be given the honor since Bill Durnan of the 1947-48 Montreal Canadiens.

The decision was controversial because NHL rule 6.1 stipulates that "No playing Coach or playing Manager or goalkeeper shall be permitted to act as Captain or Alternate Captain." Because of this, Luongo does not perform any of the on-ice duties reserved for captains and does not wear the "C" on his jersey (but you can find one on his mask). Rather, Luongo is a leader by example and in the locker room.

"Selecting Roberto Luongo as our captain is a significant decision for our entire organization," said GM Mike Gillis. "Alain (Vigneault, coach) and I were looking for someone to lead this team, who inspires his teammates, is respected for his on-ice accomplishments and who embodies the core values we are striving for as a hockey club."

Luongo backstopped Canada to a hard-fought gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, in front of the same fans he thrills as a Canuck. In five games, he posted five wins, a shutout, and a 1.76 goals-against average.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- Ovechkin is not your typical leader. As the NHL's premier goal scorer and a dynamic showman, there is no one else like him playing the game today. Though he leads by example, teammates watching Ovechkin's game won't magically become 60-goal scorers as well. Rather, where Ovechkin shows leadership is in his maximum effort and unabashed joy of playing the game each contest during the long season.

On Jan. 5, Ovechkin was named the 14th captain in franchise history.

"Our team has adopted his personality, and the energy, passion and drive to win that are his hallmarks have become our teams' as well," said GM George McPhee. "He sets the tone, on the ice as well as off. He's respectful to everyone and a great ambassador for our team and our sport. We look forward to him leading the Washington Capitals for a long time."

On the day Ovechkin was named captain, the Capitals were trailing by five points in the Eastern Conference race. In 29 games since then, they are 23-3-3 and have built a 16-point lead in the conference.

Week 1 winner -- Ryan Miller, Buffalo
Week 2 winner -- Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Week 3 winner -- Mike Richards, Philadelphia
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