By Aaron Vickers
CALGARY -- There was a time when Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf tried to do too much off the ice.
Looking to fill the leadership void left by defensemen of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, and forward Saku Koivu, Getzlaf struggled to find the balance between on-ice all-star and off-ice veteran.
No more. He's struck that balance.
"When I got here, he did all the really good things … sometimes he focused too much on the team rather than his [own] game," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Now he's got a great balance between the two. I think he's evolved and gotten better at it.
"What he does is natural. It's not just something that he sits at home and thinks, 'This is what I have to do.' What he brings is natural leadership."
It's now being recognized.
Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Ladd were named the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award on Monday, given to the NHL player "who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice, during the regular season."
Messier solicits suggestions from team and League personnel and NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates, but the selection of the finalists and ultimate winner is Messier's decision alone. The winner will be announced June 24 during the 2015 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
"That's an honor," said Getzlaf, four days shy of his 30th birthday. "It's a pretty big guy to be following. Messier left quite the legacy on the game. To be noticed in the same category is quite an honor for me.
"Leadership, it goes with personality, those kinds of things. But a lot of it does depend on your group. You can do anything you want, but if guys aren't willing to buy in and do the things that we need to do, I don't look like much of a leader. I'm pretty fortunate to have the group that I have in here and the surrounding of the older players that do take the reins on this team."
It hasn't been difficult to get that commitment from teammates.
"No matter what situation it is in the game, he can step up for us," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. "He sticks up for his teammates. He obviously brings the points and everything, but he's responsible defensively. He really does a lot.
"When we're here in the locker room, there's a lot of subtleties that people maybe don't recognize. He understands the time when it might be appropriate to light a fire underneath us and get us going or if it's time to just say a couple things and let us relax and get ready for the next period. He's got a different blend of everything."
Getzlaf is trying to pull his Ducks into the Western Conference Final for the first time since Anaheim won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
After getting two assists in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3 on Tuesday, Getzlaf will have another shot in Game 4 on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) with his Ducks up 2-1 in the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series against the Calgary Flames.
Joining Calgary's junior franchise at the age of 16, Getzlaf spent four years playing with the Hitmen in the Western Hockey League and, after his second season, was selected in the first round (No. 19) in the 2003 NHL Draft by Anaheim.
He's the first player to earn the "Forever A Hitmen" distinction, celebrating the contributions he made to the organization as a player and person on and off the ice. Ironically, given the matchup between the Flames and Ducks, a banner hangs over the opposition's blue line at Scotiabank Saddledome to celebrate Getzlaf's junior accomplishments.
Getzlaf played 233 games for the Hitmen, scoring 95 goals and 215 points.
"I love it; it feels like home," he said. "I played a lot of games here and went through a lot of different things. It's always a comforting feeling being in this building."