There are about six billion people on planet earth right now.
There is one captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
His name is Dion Phaneuf
and he was unveiled to the media Monday in front of former captains George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark at the new Real Sports Bar and Grill at Maple Leafs Square.
Six billion people. There were roughly that many on planet earth last year, and the year before.
There was no captain in Toronto, no one with the requisite leadership and skill.
One in six billion. Sounds about right.
“We felt,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said with some understatement, “that we had to wait for the right person.”
The right person turned out to be a man of few words from Edmonton, the first Western Canadian since Wendel Clark to wear the C.
“It’s a huge honour. It’s a very special day for me to be given this huge honour and I am really excited about the opportunity,” Phaneuf said.
Phaneuf has been counseled not to change. The same attributes that got him here are the ones necessary for him to thrive.
“I’m definitely not going to change. I’m a vocal guy, who isn't going to change. I take pride in working hard and that’s not going to change.”
“I am going to do everything in my power to help lead our team to win a championship.”
Burke said he became sure he had found his guy when Phaneuf fought New Jersey defenceman Colin White 30 seconds into his first shift as a Leaf.
“He’s a meat and potatoes guy,” said Clark. “Sometimes he’s judged because he’s got a growl on his face but that’s his personality. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just the intensity and emotion he brings to the rink.”
Clark said a discreet captain is always welcome, especially in a market where Leaf info is the gold standard.
“From being a player 10 years ago, keeping everybody (the media) on a need to know basis is the safest route. Sometimes nobody likes that but you’re a team player. Especially in this town, those guys in the dressing room, it’s them against the world when things are tough. Your best friends and only friends are inside the walls.”
The captains of the Toronto Maple Leafs have been men-about-town and abstainers, fancy talkers and quiet farm boys.
They have come from cities, towns and farms and in one notable case, Sweden.
Each would write their own story. Syl Apps competed at the Hitler Olympics and became a star of the freshly-minted Hockey Night in Canada radio broadcast.
Gordon Kennedy was killed in a hunting accident before his son Theodore was born. His mother took a second job at a hockey rink near the family home. Teeder Kennedy learned the work ethic that would define him at the feet of his mother.
Dave Keon played the game with a staggering internal geometry. His skating stride, his routes, his backhand, even the 14 pieces of tape on his stick were studies in precision.
Clark once went a year between games because of injuries and earned the lifelong adoration of Leaf fans not because what he did late in his career with good teams, but by how fearlessly he played for the early bad ones.
Doug Gilmour was so intent on playing in the NHL he used put weights in his pockets to fool the clipboard-bearing scouts who paraded him to the scales.
Mats Sundin set a new standard, not only for longevity but for a searing drive that only those closest to him felt.
One player wears the C, but no captain thrives without lieutenants. Steve Thomas, Jamie Macoun, Al Arbour, Johnny Bower, Dick Duff, Tim Horton, Curtis Joseph, Lanny McDonald, Brad Marsh, Kirk Muller, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pierre Pilote, Gary Roberts, Bert Olmstead and countless others have filled that role.
Phaneuf will steer a team grounded by the unerring decency of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Mike Komisarek
and Francois Beauchemin. If you can judge the chances of success of a leader by the caliber of his supporters, Phaneuf will be fine.
Six billion people, one captain but the natural comparison is with Clark. Both players are quiet in media terms but louder inside the dressing room. They are intense and capable of immeasurable havoc. Both are defined by their willingness to fight and the power of their shot.
Now they are members of a tiny club of 18. After two years of yearning for a player good enough to earn it, coach Ron Wilson, in tandem with Burke has bestowed the C.
The Leafs have a leader.