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Tavares, Pietrangelo, Stamkos discuss captain's role with

Maple Leafs, Blues, Lightning leaders also talk bonding over shared hockey roots

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- John Tavares had just been named the 25th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 2 when he received a message of congratulations from a childhood friend.

"I was pretty happy to see Johnny get it," St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think being a hometown kid on this stage, it's pretty fun for him for sure.

"To think there's three of us who are NHL captains now who played together on the same team as kids, it's pretty crazy. We all dreamed of playing in the NHL one day, but to all be wearing a 'C,' that's special."

Not to mention unique.

At age 11, Tavares, Pietrangelo and Steven Stamkos, captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, played for the Ontario Blues, a summer league team put together by a group of men that included Alex's dad, Joe, and Steven's dad, Chris. The Toronto-area team, which also featured Michael Del Zotto of the Anaheim Ducks, Michael Hutchinson of the Maple Leafs and Cody Hodgson, who played six NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators, finished with a record of 49-0-1.

More than a decade later, Chris Stamkos took a photo of Steven, Alex Pietrangelo and Tavares wearing their individual captain's jerseys on the ice at Amalie Arena during the 2018 NHL All-Star Game at Tampa Bay. It was a snapshot of how far the childhood friends had come.

Tavares was the captain of the New York Islanders from 2013-18 before signing a seven-year $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs July 1, 2018. He played two road games against his former team last season, but the Toronto-New York matchup at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET: Sportsnet, MSG+, NHL.TV) will mark the first time he'll face the Islanders as Maple Leafs captain.

What makes a good captain, especially when it comes to differing personalities like Tavares, Pietrangelo and Stamkos? put together a Captain's Roundtable of the three friends in order to find out.

John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Alex Pietrangelo, who played on the same team as 11-year-olds in Toronto, were together at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa. John and Steven, what went through your minds when you saw Alex presented with the Stanley Cup in June?

Tavares: "Probably a lot more envy but you feel good for someone that's really earned it. We all know it takes a lot to win that trophy. Knowing him for a long time, he and his family put a lot of sacrifices to get to that point. Happy for him. And now I want to do it. Hopefully our time here is soon."

Stamkos: "I was happy for him. How can you not be? All our dreams as kids growing up was to win that Cup. For us, that was probably the first time we saw a captain around our age and a friend of ours go up and be able to win that thing and go up and get it. It was pretty amazing. You're happy for Petro. But you're jealous too. It can motivate you knowing that you're close."

Pietrangelo: "Both of them reached out to me afterward, which was cool. I mean, Johnny got exceptional status to play junior hockey when he was 15. Steven got 50 goals in an NHL season. But me … I got the Cup."  How do you wrap your heads around the fact that three guys from the same kids' team are now all NHL captains?

Pietrangelo: "I'm sure my dad and Chris will say it's the coaching. It's pretty fun to see. These are guys you kind of grew up with, played with."

Tavares: "Pretty amazing. I think we all feel fortunate to be in the roles that we're in. Just to think where we were 10, 15, 20 years ago, just kids dreaming about playing in the NHL. For that to happen is pretty remarkable."

Stamkos: "That summer team was pretty special. I think we knew that from Day 1. I think we knew deep down that if we kept that trajectory, we'd all be in the NHL one day. Obviously, you can't foresee guys becoming the impact players we've become in this League. And then three guys becoming NHL captains? That's pretty cool." You three guys have such different personalities. Could you see leadership qualities in each other back then?

Pietrangelo: "I think the biggest thing is that we've all stayed true to our personalities. Johnny's always been the same -- he's low key, quiet, even keel, right? He was better at lacrosse too. Steven, come to think of it, was pretty much the same as he is now too. A chatty guy."

Tavares: "That's pretty accurate. When it comes to learning about leadership, one benefit I had that a lot of guys didn't have was that I got to be around my uncle (John Tavares) a lot. He was the greatest player ever in his sport (lacrosse). To be in the locker room on practice days, game days, and to see how he interacted with his teammates, how he carried himself with how good he was, and no matter what role any of his teammates played he made them all feel included and part of the team, well, you learned from that. I don't think you really realize it at the time, but it makes a major impact on you when you get to see one of your biggest idols and incredible athlete around his peers and how he interacts on a daily basis in his profession."

Stamkos: "I think playing on such a good team like the [Ontario Blues] taught us a lot. We were all good players from different teams that came together. If anything, when you have that many good players, sometimes you can't always be the go-to guy. Everybody was willing to do that. That shows leadership qualities."

The Toronto Blues, a summer league team, had quite a roster, including future NHL players Michael Del Zotto (top l.), Alex Pietrangelo (top second from l.), John Tavares (front, second from r.) and Steven Stamkos (second row, far r.). Photo courtesty Chris Stamkos Having said all that, what does make a good captain? What's the common thread that's allowed the three of you to be just that?

Pietrangelo: "I think we've always taken pride in our work ethic. Certainly, we've been the same way since we were kids. Maybe that was the way we were brought up. We've always stayed true to who we are. It's pretty good for me to say these guys haven't changed since they were 8, 10 years old. I think that speaks volumes to the people that we are. As the captain, you want to stay true to who you are. You want to be the same person that you were before you got the letter, and that's kind of the way all three of us go about our business."

Tavares: "The professionalism and work ethic we all have. And guys enjoy playing the game. I think what you remember is that Steven and Alex were game breakers. They always wanted the puck on their stick, they had it on there a lot and they always made a difference on the ice even as kids. They could bring you out of your seat and say 'Wow' when they made plays. As people, we were just kids, we just had fun. They still do." Years from now, what will it mean to look at that photo from Tampa Bay of the three of you as NHL captains?

Stamkos: "When your career is done and you look at special moments like that, it's pretty amazing. Even for our parents, they'll be friends for a long time. It was a really good couple of birth years in the Toronto area, that's for sure."

Pietrangelo: "Those are cool moments. Maybe now you take it for granted but five, 10 years from now, when you're not playing, those are the special things you look back on."

Tavares: "It reminds us how amazing it is where life takes you. We're fortunate we've come to this point."

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