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Hard-working Horcoff named Oilers' new captain

by Robin Brownlee
EDMONTON -- Even Shawn Horcoff's staunchest critics -- and there have been many since he signed a big contract after the Edmonton Oilers' 2006 Stanley Cup run -- admire his work ethic and admit he knows what it takes to be a good pro.

Those attributes not only helped Horcoff ascend from being a fourth-line winger on a veteran-laden team a decade ago to the first-line center with the team that went to the Cup final four years ago, they made the Trail, B.C., native the obvious choice to be named the 13th captain in franchise history.

On an team rebuilding after a 30th-place finish in 2009-10, boasting an abundance of young, unproven talent in Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, and in need of real leadership, Horcoff looks like the right guy at the right time.

"I've been an Oiler all my life," Horcoff, the team's longest-serving player with 637 games in Edmonton, said Wednesday at Rexall Place. "I put a lot of hard work and a lot of effort into becoming the best pro and Oiler I could be.

"I look forward to doing that for many more years and trying to help our young guys to that, also."

Horcoff, 32, takes over the captaincy from Ethan Moreau, who was let go as part of a purge that began before the trade deadline last season -- a turnover that has seen Steve Staios, Patrick O'Sullivan and Sheldon Souray (assigned to Hershey of the AHL on Wednesday), shown the door.

In step Hall, 18, Paajarvi, 19, and Eberle, 20. They'll take a lot of their cues on and off the ice from Horcoff, who'll lead the Oilers onto the ice against the Calgary Flames on Thursday with the "C" stitched on his jersey.

"I think when you talk about Shawn, you talk about the requisite work habits," coach Tom Renney said. "It doesn't matter what day it is. It doesn't matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter if it's the middle of July or the middle of January, we're talking about a man who brings himself to work as hard as anyone possibly can.

"He exhibits the type of works habits we think we need to identify with in here on a regular basis. We have a young team that requires very good veteran leadership with an example that exemplifies being a pro. With that, I think Shawn is an obvious choice. The guys are all over this. They love it."

Horcoff has had little go right for him since Game 7 of the 2006 Cup Final. He missed 29 games in 2007-08 with a shoulder injury. Horcoff, who had a career-high 73 points in 2005-06, had just 53 in 2008-09 and 36 points last season, his lowest total since 2002-03.

That's made Horcoff's $5.5 million cap hit and a contract that will pay him $7 million this season the central part of any debate involving the former Michigan State captain.

"They picked the best guy for the job," teammate Ales Hemsky said. "He's been here a long time and he's a great leader. They couldn't pick a better guy.

"I think sometimes people see the money he's making and they see him the wrong way. He kills penalties, he plays the power play, he wins faceoffs. It's not just about points. If you want to win games, you need guys like him, you know?"

Horcoff has risen from being an afterthought who was drafted with the 99th pick in 1998 to captain the old-fashioned way. He broke in as a checking winger with the 2000-01 team captained by Doug Weight.
"It doesn't matter what day it is. It doesn't matter the circumstances. It doesn't matter if it's the middle of July or the middle of January, we're talking about a man who brings himself to work as hard as anyone possibly can." -- Tom Renney on Shawn Horcoff

Horcoff's career path has been a hockey version of working your way up from the mailroom to the boardroom.

"He's somebody we look up to," teammate Sam Gagner said. "His habits, the way he prepares for games, the things he does off ice and the way he carries himself, he's probably the unanimous choice in here.

"Tom (Renney) asked a bunch of guys, he asked the players and asked management, but I think it was a pretty easy decision when you look at it, what he's done here, the soldier he's been and how hard he's worked to establish himself as a great NHL two-way player. That's something, as a young guy, you look up to."

The way Horcoff sees it, a big part of his job description involves passing on what he's learned along the way under past captains Weight, Jason Smith and Moreau.

"In my tenure here, I've seen skilled guys to warriors to pretty much all different types of players be captain," Horcoff said. "Everyone leads in a different way. I'd like to think I can take a little bit from each of those guys. Each one was very good and special in their own way.

"For me personally, it's just kind of doing the same thing I've done. I'd like to lead by example."

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