BROSSARD, Quebec -- The role of a captain in today's NHL may be somewhat diminished from what it once was. But being named captain of the oldest and most storied franchise in the League is still special, and it is a role that is different than any other captain.
Not necessarily better or more important. Just different.
The weight of having that letter "C" on his jersey was evident on the face of Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty on Friday as he spoke about how honored he was to wear it, how humbled he was to join the 28 previous captains in franchise history and how seriously he plans on taking the responsibility.
"In my mind it is the biggest honor," Pacioretty said. "I just can't believe that I'll be put in the same category as the people before me. I really am honored, and that's what is the most shocking part about this for me; that I don't believe I belong in the same sentence as any of those 28 other captains."
The first clue as to how this role is different than that of any other NHL captain came when Pacioretty made his opening remarks, reading from a prepared, 121-word statement exclusively in French, a statement broadcast on live television across the province of Quebec.
The Canadiens have not had a French-speaking captain since Vincent Damphousse in 1999, and the past two captains, Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta, never made a public declaration like the one Pacioretty made in French.
This was big, and a sign that Pacioretty fully understands how important the issue of language is for the captain of the Canadiens.
"It's very important for me," Pacioretty said. "This is my home now; me and my family take it very seriously. We call Montreal home and this is a big part of the culture. We understand that. So I've been getting classes for a year, and this should motivate me and my family to do even more. I hope to do so. I don't think I'm going to be perfect overnight, but I'm going to do the best I can."
After going without a captain last season, general manager Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien decided the captaincy would be decided by a player vote. They refused to divulge the results of the vote, though it appears Pacioretty won by a fair margin.
"The majority voted for Max," Bergevin said. "I won't go into details, but we didn't need to count twice."
The vote was held Thursday night, with all the players who finished last season with the team eligible to vote. The only rules were that a player could not vote for himself, and he could not vote for goaltender Carey Price. Once the results were known Bergevin and Therrien decided they should go visit Pacioretty at his house to give him the good news right away.
Except there was one problem.
"I've got to admit, it couldn't have been done a better way," the 26-year-old said. "We voted, I went home and it was just a standard night in the Pacioretty household. Put one kid in the bathtub and getting the other one ready for bed and Marc called and said, 'Open your front door.' And I opened the front door and didn't see anything. So…"
That's when Bergevin stepped in.
"We went to the wrong house," he said.
"So once he saw which house it was they both pulled up and I knew right away," Pacioretty continued. "Nothing was said, but it was something I'll remember forever."
Bergevin and Therrien decided to name four alternate captains, with center Tomas Plekanec and defensemen Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban maintaining the "A" on their sweaters they wore last season. The fourth alternate is forward Brendan Gallagher, 23, who is starting his fourth season in the NHL.
"Obviously it's a big honor, it's something that I'm proud of," Gallagher said. "But that said, it's not going to change the way I am or what I do. We have a room full of leaders. I don't need to do anything differently than what I've done the last three years."
Subban was probably considered the other primary candidate to be named captain. But he brushed those expectations aside and said he was happy for Pacioretty, and also happy that the captaincy issue will be put to rest after a year of questions on the subject.
"I think Max has been a great player for us since he's been in the League and not only that, he's been a great leader in the dressing room," Subban said. "Aside from that I know that management has always supported Max in that role, and that's great. I'm happy for him."
Bergevin announced that Markov and Gallagher will serve as alternate captains together, and Plekanec and Subban will do so together. One pairing will wear the "A" on the road and the other at home, switching at midseason.
But Pacioretty will have the "C" on his jersey all season.
On a couple of occasions during the press conference Friday, it was clear Pacioretty was fighting back tears. He did so once when a reporter told him how the widow of the late Jean Beliveau, Elise, said Wednesday that she felt he should be captain. He did it again when talking about how different a feeling this was from the last time he was named a team captain, in high school.
One way of maintaining his composure was keeping his eyes straight ahead of him and not looking at the actual letter on his jersey.
"I don't want to look down," he said, "because I don't want to get too emotional."