-- It was only three years ago that Mark Streit
was trying to prove to the hockey world that he was capable of being a team's No. 1 defenseman.
On Wednesday, he made history when he became the first Swiss-born player to be named captain of an NHL team.
The 33-year-old Streit was named the 13th captain in New York Islanders
history, replacing Doug Weight
, who had retired in May. Streit had been an alternate captain for most of the time since he signed with the team as a free agent in the summer of 2008.
"It's obviously a huge challenge for me," Streit said. "It's a huge honor and a very big privilege. There's never been a Swiss player as captain in the National Hockey League. It's a big honor. It's a great franchise with a big history. There's been many legendary players that's been captain of the team, like Bryan Trottier
or Pat LaFontaine
. Dougie Weight, Billy Guerin -- there's so many great players. I'm really excited. I've been captain in the past of the Swiss National Team. This is an unbelievable day for me. I'm blessed and honored."
"It's a huge honor and a very big privilege. There's never been a Swiss player as captain in the National Hockey League. It's a big honor. It's a great franchise with a big history. There's been many legendary players that's been captain of the team, like Bryan Trottier or Pat LaFontaine. Dougie Weight, Billy Guerin … there's so many great players. I'm really excited. I've been captain in the past of the Swiss National Team. This is an unbelievable day for me. I'm blessed and honored."
-- Mark Streit
Streit also feels blessed just to be back on the ice. After enjoying back-to-back solid seasons with the Islanders, he suffered a shoulder injury during a training-camp scrimmage last September. He suffered a torn labrum and was lost for the season before it even began.
Now fully healthy, Streit is expected to return to the form he showed in New York from 2008-10. And on top of that, he's expected to lead the Islanders to their first playoff berth since 2007.
"I couldn't play last year, but during the summer I was able to work out like any other summer," Streit said. "I started skating in the beginning of August. I skated for five, six weeks back home. I feel really good. I can't wait for the first preseason game.
"I was hoping to be captain because I felt like I could do a good job. But I didn't expect it. I had a rough year. It was tough to watch. But during the year, you realized how good this team is. There's so many great players on that team. I feel like we have a wonderful mix of players. We have great chemistry. Our future looks bright, and I think the future is now. We want to win games. I think we should put the rebuilding part behind us and go out and show what we can do. We're kind of an underdog, but we want to do some damage. Being the captain, I know my role. I want to be a leader on and off the ice. I'm really excited."
Islanders coach Jack Capuano
wouldn't divulge how the decision was reached to name Streit captain, but he's confident he's the man for the job. In 156 games with the Isles, Streit has 27 goals and 78 assists and has averaged more than 25 minutes of ice time per game.
"When you've got somebody that does things the right way, when you've got somebody that has the respect of the coaches, his teammates and the organization … there's not one thing about Mark that we feel is going to lead our team, but there's numerous things," Capuano said. "The way that Mark leads his life, and I know what he brings to us on the ice as well, I know Mark's going to do a fantastic job."
Streit isn't the yell-and-scream type, but the Islanders believe his work ethic shines through on a daily basis. But how does Streit plan on leading this young group back to the playoffs?
Defense - NYI
GOALS: 52 | ASST: 164 | PTS: 214
SOG: 656 | PIM: 180 | +/-: -12
"I think you lead by example," he said. "I try to work as hard as possible every day on and off the ice. I'm probably the worst loser in the world. I hate losing. I just want to win games. There's a lot of guys in the locker room and I want to be a good leader on and off the ice. You wake up in the morning and have a great practice. You do your work on the ice and during the games. You lead by example."
Streit is entering the fourth year of the five-year, $20.5 million deal he signed with the Islanders in the summer of 2008 after spending three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens
, who selected him in the ninth round (No. 262) of the 2004 Entry Draft. Streit often was used as a forward during his time with the Habs and knew the Islanders would provide him with an opportunity to be a full-time defenseman. Streit's signing easily is one of the best moves Garth Snow
has made since he became the club's General Manager in 2006.
"I can remember at the time when Mark was playing forward," Snow said. "I think he's proven that he is a top-notch defenseman. We're ecstatic that he signed here and we're happy that he's had the success that he's had for us and I'm proud that he's now our captain."
So are Streit's fellow countrymen. Just one year after Nino Niederreiter
became the highest Swiss player ever drafted when the Islander selected him with the fifth pick of the 2010 draft, Streit has made some history of his own.
"It's a big honor for Swiss hockey," Streit said. "Hockey came a long way. There's two Swiss guys on this team, with Nino obviously a big prospect. It's great. We came a long ways. I felt in the past World Championship and the Olympics that the Swiss team keeps playing better and better. Back home, a lot of people follow hockey. When I go back home in the summer time, they talk to me and they tell me every morning they check the stats and they watch all the games on the Internet. The NHL is big in Switzerland. I think this makes it even better."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL