It’s just a single letter, but it’s what the letter stands for that makes the choice so clear.
Someone who plays the game with honor and integrity. Someone who is unanimously respected by his teammates, coaches and opponents. Someone who is just as admirable off the ice as he is on it.
And someone who is capable of leading the Nashville Predators to a summit they’ve never reached before.
That’s why veteran center Mike Fisher was named the seventh captain in franchise history on Thursday, a move that was met with unequivocal praise throughout the organization, and a move that humbled the man who will have a new letter stitched onto his jersey this season.
“It’s really special to be wearing the ‘C,’” Fisher said. “There’s no question it’s an honor, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to wear it for a great organization, great people and a great team. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m excited. I’m looking forward to the season and it’s going to be a fun challenge.”
Both Predators General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Peter Laviolette have no doubt Fisher’s ready for what’s ahead. Those in charge of bestowing Fisher with the responsibility spoke of an endless list of qualifications that go far beyond his abilities on the ice.
“It is the right time for Mike to be the captain in our history,” Poile said. “In my mind, he could’ve easily been the captain many times in his career, but this is his time; it’s the perfect fit… In terms of the type of player that Mike is, he’s played over 1,000 games in the National Hockey League, he comes to play every game, he’s respected by his teammates, his coaches, his opponents, referees, and Mike is a guy the players go to when they need something. Whether it be some advice of what to do on the ice, and equally, if not more important, some advice off the ice. This is a perfect fit for our franchise today.”
“Mike Fisher is a terrific choice to be the captain of this team,” Laviolette said. “For him to step into this role is a natural fit. When the transactions happened this summer, in the back of my mind, we knew we had a guy that could take over as the captain of this team and do an excellent job at it. He’s really well respected by the players in the room and by the coaches around the League, so for me, it’s a real easy transition for him to come in and take over this team.”
Fisher takes on his new leadership role after serving as a full-time alternate captain with the Preds for four consecutive seasons. He also filled that role as a member of the Ottawa Senators before arriving in Nashville in 2011. Being looked to as a leader is nothing new for the 36-year-old, and he doesn’t expect to reinvent the wheel just because the letter on his jersey has changed.
“I believe they’ve given it to me for a reason, and I want to continue to do what I’ve always done,” Fisher said. “I want to help this team win a Cup, and I want to try and do all I can do, and do more than what I’ve done in the past… I definitely want to be that guy that can help this team and help guys be better.”
Laviolette knows Fisher has a propensity for helping those around him, and with a roster that includes only four players over the age of 30, that skill set will be just as important to the team’s success as any other.
“Fisher is probably one of the best pros I’ve ever seen,” Laviolette said. “He comes into camp in shape, he works as hard as any guy on the ice, if not harder every day, and he plays the game with passion and purpose. For young players to rub shoulders with that on a regular basis and to be able to watch him and learn from him, those experiences will help grow our team as well. There’s great confidence amongst the coaches and the managers that Mike Fisher is the next guy to lead this team.”
Fisher won’t be alone when leading the club, however. Laviolette often talks of the Predators leadership core, which consists of players like Fisher, James Neal, Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne. Together, those who know the team and game inside and out combine to help make decisions in the club’s best interests, a role Fisher is excited to continue.
“I try to lead by example and do things the right way,” Fisher said. “That’s my goal, and I’m not always perfect, but I want to be a guy that can lead the right way by saying the right things at the right time, and making sure I know my teammates really well, and just help them be the best that they can be. I’m wearing the ‘C,’ but there’s so many great guys and we’re going to be working together. We work together as a team, we all have our different roles and that’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it challenging.”
He’s been through every high and low the franchise has seen over the past five-plus seasons. He remembers scoring the goal to end the longest game in club history last spring. He knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the handshake line.
He’d like to be on the winning side of four of those this spring, and while there’s at least 82 games to be played, Fisher knows what kind of potential exists in the Nashville locker room - just as well as anyone.
After all, who better to speak on the matter than the captain?
“We have to be better this year, and I know we will be,” Fisher said. “We’ve improved our hockey team, and I think the whole city is excited, I’m excited and everyone is just looking forward to it. We know we have more than what we had last year. We got a little bit of a taste, but we’re going to take it to the next level.”