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Getting 'C' cements Callahan's leadership role

by Dan Rosen

"He's home-grown and he's gone through it -- it's the way it should be done, as far as we're concerned as an organization. He went through the minors, he's grown, he's developed and he's gained the respect to have this opportunity to be our captain."
-- John Tortorella

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- If only every decision would be this easy for Rangers coach John Tortorella.

After three years of watching Ryan Callahan grow from a young player into a leader in the dressing room, Tortorella knew it was time for the 26-year-old forward to become captain of the New York Rangers.

Callahan was told privately Friday that he was getting the "C," and the team released the news publicly Monday. Marc Staal and Brad Richards will be the alternates.

Callahan is the 26th captain in franchise history and the first native New Yorker. He hails from Rochester, which is roughly a five-hour drive from Manhattan.

"He's home-grown and he's gone through it -- it's the way it should be done, as far as we're concerned as an organization," Tortorella said Monday. "He went through the minors, he's grown, he's developed and he's gained the respect to have this opportunity to be our captain. To be the captain of the New York Rangers, an Original Six team, it's a pretty cool thing and he fits it."

'A' just a letter to Richards

While honored to wear a letter and take on the official leadership responsibilities that come with it, Rangers center Brad Richards doesn't need an 'A' stitched to his jersey to understand his role with his new club.

"Let's be honest, I signed a nine-year contract and I have 12 years in the League, so that (leadership) role is going to be on me no matter what," Richards said Monday, shortly after the Rangers announced their $60 million center officially was part of the leadership core, joining Marc Staal as alternate captains, and Ryan Callahan as team captain. "They're not going to expect me to hide over in the corner and not talk. I don't see how it changes a whole lot from what I'm doing."

Upon naming Callahan the 26th captain in franchise history, Rangers coach John Tortorella named Richards an alternate captain for the veteran presence he brings to the leadership core and the fact that he already knows the type of person he is in the dressing room.

Tortorella coached Richards when both were with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2001-08. They won the Stanley Cup together in 2004.

"What always hit me right away when he was a young player was his respect for the game," Tortorella said of Richards. "He understands the history of the game and I think a lot of people forget that. That's important for young players in all sports, to understand the history of the game. I just felt he got it right away with the intangibles of a locker room at such a young age, and he's matured. I haven't been with him the past few years, but I know what he brings as far as leadership skills."

Callahan fully endorses having Richards as one of his alternates even though he's never played a game with him.

"He seems like a tremendous guy and he's a winner, so there are things I need to learn from him, too," Callahan said. "He's won a Stanley Cup. He's been through it."

Richards previously wore an 'A' in Tampa Bay and Dallas. He doesn't expect anything will be different in New York.

"The only difference is I might get a little more leeway yelling at the refs," he joked. "I'm honored to have it on my (uniform) for this organization, but it's not going to change how I do things around here."

-- Dan Rosen
Callahan fits, Tortorella said, because he has the respect of his teammates, his coaches and everyone associated with the organization from top to bottom.

He was selected by the Rangers in the fourth round of the 2004 Entry Draft and participated in prospects camps and the Traverse City Prospects Tournament. Callahan finished his junior career as the captain of the Guelph Storm from 2004-06 and spent almost a full season plus part of another with Hartford, the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate.

Callahan has been a full-time Ranger since 2008, and he was an alternate captain last season, when he put up career-highs in goals (23), assists (25) and points (48) despite missing 22 games with a broken hand.

He committed himself to the club for at least three more seasons by signing a new contract in July that helped him avoid an arbitration hearing.

"I started from draft picks doing the prospects camps and Traverse City, and looking back on all that now being named captain, it's a little bit of a surreal feeling," Callahan said in his first interview as captain. "But at the same time it's nice that my hard work and dedication to the game has paid off here."

It's not hard to find proof of Callahan's leadership. The evidence has been right in front of everyone's eyes over the past two weeks as he's been a driving force behind the informal workouts going on here at MSG Training Center.

Attendance has grown almost daily, and Monday the Rangers had enough players skating here that they could have fielded two teams.

Training camp opens Friday.

"You can get a sense (of Callahan's leadership) right away," Richards said. "I kind of knew anyway coming in. The people I talked to gave me an idea of who would be like that. It's just very easy to have him as your leader."

Other Rangers teammates were quick to offer their congratulations over Twitter, as backup goalie Martin Biron tweeted, "Congrats to a great WNY guy, Ryan Callahan, on being our team captain. A great leader and warrior on and off the ice. #NYRangers," while offseason addition Mike Rupp tweeted, "Congrats to Cally on captaincy! Played against him for a while now... Plays the game right! Glad to be his teammate now!"

Callahan described himself as the type of captain that will lead by example and get vocal when he needs to.

"If something needs to be said, then it will be," Callahan said.

He doesn't plan on changing anything about his personality or his game, and the Rangers don't want him to. After all, he earned the captaincy because of who he is now, not who they think he might one day become.

Even the added responsibility of being the captain isn't all that new to Callahan.

With ex-captain Chris Drury out for most of last season, Tortorella leaned heavily on Callahan and Staal to gauge the pulse of the team. He would ask them their opinion on practice times in order to understand best how the team is feeling, if they needed a rest or if it was the right time to push.

"I got my feet wet a little bit with that," Callahan said. "You got a feeling of it and what it's all about."

As a result, Tortorella didn't have to give Callahan a big speech when he spoke to him Friday and gave him the news that the captaincy was his.

"But the one thing I did say to him is when you get into the situation and you're now the captain, the head of the leadership group, it's not always about making everybody happy, it's what is best for the hockey club," Tortorella said. "He'll handle it the right way. He's a conduit now so he has the right to come to me and say, 'You know what, what about this instead of that?' We need to listen because he's going to take the voice of the locker room and bring it to us."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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