DETROIT – Undrafted players rarely end up captains in the NHL.
It’s even more extraordinary for undrafted American players.
On Tuesday, Michigan native Andy Greene returns to Joe Louis Arena for the first time since the New Jersey Devils named him the 11th captain in club history back in October.
Greene is at least the sixth Michigan-born NHL captain, joining Derian Hatcher, Kevin Hatcher, Mike Modano, Brian Rolston and Doug Weight.
“When you start playing, your dream is to play one game in the NHL and then once you get there you’re kind of trying how to figure out ‘now how do I stick? How do I become a consistent player?’ ” Greene said. “You kind of take those steps along the way and obviously to come back here as a captain of an NHL team it’s quite the honor. What, there are only 29 other ones in the league and in the world and it’s an honor to be viewed as one of them.”
Greene and Calgary's Mark Giordano are the current captains in the league that weren’t drafted. Greene is also one of eight American-born captains in the league. The others are: Brian Gionta (Buffalo), Nick Foligno (Columbus), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Ryan McDonagh (N.Y. Rangers), David Backes (St. Louis) and Joe Pavelski (San Jose).
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill knows Greene very well. As an assistant Ferris State, Blashill tried to recruit the young Trenton prospect, but it didn’t go too good.
“We actually tried to recruit him and he wouldn’t return our phone calls,” Blashill said, laughing. “We’ve had little barbs about that through the years. He showed up at Miami when I showed up at Miami.”
Greene eventually committed to Miami of Ohio, where he had an All-American career, producing 114 points in 159 games.
Blashill has nothing but positive memories of his time as an assistant coach in Oxford, Ohio during Greene’s playing career.
“His character is off the charts,” Blashill said. “He’s a guy who shows up every day to get better. He’s a guy who works. I would say he was one of the very best players in college hockey in the time that I coached him. Really in three of the four years that he was there he was probably considered one of the best players in college hockey, but you’d walk into the dressing room and you’d never know it. He doesn’t carry himself with any kind of arrogance. He wants to get better every single day. He’s calm under pressure. He’s real even keeled as a person. And he’s an extremely smart hockey player. I’m a huge, huge fan of Andy Greene as a person and a huge, huge fan of Andy Greene as a player.”
Greene equally admires Blashill for helping shape him into the person and player he has become.
“He had a huge impact on my career,” Greene said. “Obviously we came in together at Miami, spend four years together. Learned a lot from him, not only as a player but as a person. He really made sure to challenge me on the ice not to just be satisfied with the player that I was, but to continue to push me to improve.”
Tonight, Greene will play in his 264th straight game. It’s an ironman stretch that doesn’t surprise Blashill.
“That’s a great run but it’s part of his approach every day,” the Red Wings coach said. “He would be the hardest-working guy, the hardest battler. In college you do a lot of battle drills and again he’s one of the elite players in this country and he’s the hardest battler. He’s the guy that’s setting the tone for the rest of the team. He’s got a body that seems to be able to endure that. Just a real big fan of him overall.”
Greene was a phenomenal prep player, who excelled under legendary coach Mike Turner at Trenton High School. As a freshman, Greene’s goal against Grosse Pointe South helped Trenton to a 3-2 win in the Class A state finals. Two years later, Greene earned the Mr. Hockey Award, presented to the state’s best prep player by the high school hockey coaches association. Greene was the first junior recipient.
“It was another important steppingstones for moving on to juniors and on to college,” Greene said. “I knew him for a very long time as a family friend, learned a lot from him and our other coaches – Mr. (Rod) Wakeham and Mr. (Mark) Bronson – they were all very influential and really pushed me like Blash would do to become a better player.”
After tonight’s game, the 33-year-old Greene plans to stay behind in metro Detroit to celebrate Christmas with his parents and his brothers’ families this week.
“I got to go home last night and see mom and dad and a couple of my brothers and nieces and nephews,” Greene said. “Had dinner with them and obviously we’ll focus on tonight and worry about tonight first and then enjoy Christmas after. I’ll be able to stuck around for a few days.
“Had a new baby (Colton James), he’s about 3 ½ months, so it’s the first time for the brothers and nieces and nephews were able to see him last night, so it was great to see them interact with him. Really looking forward to it; it should be a fun few days here.”