I know that stats can be deceiving. Some are not even worth the paper they are written on. However, in sports where it's a results-driven business it's hard not to look at the difference a player can make to his team's lineup. The impact he provides when he plays compared to when he doesn't. In the case of Shawn Horcoff the numbers are staggering when he's on the ice compared to when he's not. Horcoff has played in eight games this season. The Oilers record in those games is 5-2-1. In the 17 games he hasn't played, Edmonton is 4-9-4.
Hard to argue the kind of impact Shawn Horcoff makes and it was again evident on Sunday. After missing 15 games with a broken knuckle, the captain climbed back into the lineup against Chicago. He did so during Edmonton's most difficult stretch of the season. Winless in five and goalless in two. The Oilers needed someone to make a difference. Shawn Horcoff was that someone. He played 18:47, won 12 of 23 draws and pitched in with a goal. All in all a successful return for him and successful night for his team. I say his team because I believe that it is Horcoff's team.
It became evident soon after he was hurt that the Oilers weren't the same without him. There is a certain presence Horcoff has that can sometimes be hard to explain. You have to see it to believe it. I think it starts with his work ethic. I remember at one of the stops along my career path once being told that your boss (or in this case captain) has to be your hardest worker. It sets an example for everyone else. It's up to the employee (fellow teammates) to then try and match that level of commitment or dedication. Basically if the boss (captain) is going to work that hard I better as well. The other thing that strikes me about Shawn Horcoff is that when he talks, people listen. The Oilers have enough respect for their leader to understand when he is speaking there's a point and a reason and it's not simply to hear his own voice.
That couldn't have been more obvious than it was on Saturday which was a day before the Chicago game but also a day after the Nashville loss. Upon arriving in the Windy City and to their hotel, no one was going anywhere until they heard from the captain. Horcoff called a team meeting. Something he felt was a necessity as he watched the club sinking into serious trouble. He had the floor to start the meeting and went about explaining what the captain was witnessing from a team that had lost its way. He was clear, concise and not too concerned about hurting anyone's feelings. It was time to be honest, brutally honest. By the end of the meeting, eight to 10 players had also spoken up and whatever differences there might have been, the Oilers walked out of that meeting with a plan. To play inspired, to play as a team and play like they can and to not let the season slip away.
I understand that winning a game as the Oilers did in Chicago and turning around a season won't be done by one man or because of one man. It will take more than a meeting and the return to the lineup of a single player. However, Shawn Horcoff seized the moment when a vulnerable team needed guidance and leadership. He provided the qualities you expect and need to have in a captain. Making it easy to see why he wears the 'C'.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers games on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.