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Former captains offer advice to Eichel

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jack Eichel has been named the 19th full-time captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

He joins a lineage of captains that includes Hall of Famers, fan favorites who gave their all on both ends of the ice and players responsible for moments that are permanently etched in the memories of Sabres fans. 

We spoke with seven of those players to gather their advice for Eichel on the job that lies ahead. 

 

Jim Schoenfeld (1974-75 - 1976-77)

I was young - I was 22 when they named me captain - and we went to the Stanley Cup Final that season. We had a good season, good playoffs, but it wasn't because I was the captain. I just happened to be the guy.

The captains who succeed are the ones who have great followers. I had Fred Stanfield and Larry Mickey, well-reputed veterans. They had good credentials and they sort of guided me along. I had Larry and Freddie to steer me in the right direction at times I was unsure and a group of players that had a lot of leaders. Everybody took responsibility of making the team a success.

The one thing I learned over the years - I've seen it the longer I've been in the business - is when a player is named captain, they don't realize they're being named captain because of the physical and mental traits they already possess. And now that they're given that title, they feel they have to become something else. 

It usually doesn't work if you're anything but yourself. If I could give any advice to a new captain, it's to recognize that you're selected because of the qualities you have. Just work on enhancing those qualities. Don't think you've got to be something you're not. I've seen that mistake made throughout my career.

You have to realize that it's a shared responsibility and that the only way you'll succeed is if everybody's on board. So maybe that's part of the job, is to try to influence the rest of the group to make sure that they are on board. And that's where you need help - because your approach, your demeanor, your manner may not work for everybody. 

But the goal is still the same, to get everybody working toward the same goal.

What is best for the team trumps everything else. You want to do what's best for each individual within that framework, but - and this is not just for a captain, this is for everybody - you can't go outside what's best for the team to appease any player. You might reach him, and you might lose four others in the process. 

So, you have to keep in mind that we're doing what we feel is best for the team. If you're ever going to win - for that period of time - everyone has to feel that way: We're doing this thing for one another.


Danny Gare (1977-78 - 1980-81)

 

To me, it was an honor to be a captain. With that being said, there is a responsibility that goes with the 'C' also. My late father taught me three words and they were lead by example. That pretty much wraps up what I feel a captain has to do.

I was fortunate to try and follow those three words throughout my career. My junior career, I was a captain and I was twice a captain in the NHL. I think 'lead by example' are the best three words I can give any future captain.

I wanted my fellow players to view me as a good teammate, first and foremost - I think that was important. I knew that if I went out and did what I was supposed to do or more, it would filter down.

You're a conduit to your teammates - you have to lead by example - but also a conduit to your coaching staff. You have to have a good rapport with them and need to have the respect of both sides. When you have that ability to say something in the dressing room then you have to go out and follow up. 

I wasn't a real vocal person, but I think in saying that, if I had to have some tough love or I had to get on our teammates as to how we were going forward if it wasn't a good game, then I spoke. And hopefully I went out and lead by example and turned it around.
    

Gilbert Perreault (1981-82 - 1985-86)

 

First of all, I believe you need respect from the other players. 

A captain is a guy who will have to hold a meeting once in a while to get everybody moving in the same direction. He may have to talk to a player who's having a hard time. You have to make sure that everyone's happy and ensure they're playing as a unit. 

Everybody in the room is a leader in his own way. It's a team - there's 22, 23 players. Everybody is there to make sure that the team is having success. You don't need a letter on your jersey to be a leader, that's the way I look at it. 

A captain, to me, is a guy who commands some respect in the room. There are good times and bad times. In bad times, you have to keep everyone on course and pull them in the same direction. That's what a captain is for.


Lindy Ruff (1986-87 - 1988-89)

 

When I was named captain, you were looked up to for character and your work ethic. There are all kinds of different types of captains. I wanted to represent the fact that I was going to go on the ice and work as hard as I possibly could, and basically carry the message of how we needed to play. That's usually the coach's message as well. 

I felt it was a tremendous honor to be picked out of the group of players we had. Other guys would've been good choices, from Mike Ramsey at the time to Mike Foligno. Those were my core people that I went to. I had some great people around me and I looked to them for all the support I needed at times. 

To be selected, obviously, I exhibited certain qualities that would allow the team to make that decision. I knew that I had to overcome what I'd say was a lack of - not being a great scorer, but I'd have to set the tone as a player by how hard I played most times. I had to go out and do the right things and be an example for the other players.

You've got to lead with your play, first and foremost. There isn't one of those guys that doesn't lead by his play. Be that example, whether it's your best practice player, your hardest worker, the guy that's committed to all aspects of the game. Those are the young players that are already captains.

It might be a first- or second-year guy that is the face of your franchise that they feel they've got enough character around them, enough character to help him. He needs to have guys he can go to and ask the question if need be - What do we need to do here? What do we need to say? What do we need to do to get better? A young guy can become the face and captain of your franchise. 


Mike Foligno (1989-90)

 

I remember a Joe DiMaggio quote from a long time ago. 

Someone said to DiMaggio, 'Joe, why do you play so hard every night? You go all out.' 

DiMaggio said, 'Because there might be somebody watching me play that night for the very first time.' 

Well, I remember reading that quote my first year in Detroit - which was my first year in the NHL - and thinking, 'Here's a player in a different sport, with the New York Yankees, who was a great athlete with a lot of success. That was his go-to mentality, that he would play every night to the best of his capabilities, regardless of circumstances.' That's how I tried to carry myself as leader.

The difference when you become captain is you then to have to get that out of your teammates as well. You can still play with passion, but now it's a shared passion. You teach other players around you and show, as a captain, what you're all about and what level you can compete at.

I think that's a responsibility, thinking more outside yourself but at the same time being able to perform. If you only think outside yourself then you're not going to be able to bring your best game. You have to understand that the role you're being asked to take on is one they feel you're capable of. You can still perform at your level of play and at the same time be able to think about the rest of the team. 

I learned from great leaders in Buffalo. Gilbert Perreault was a master of the game, someone that can just think the game above and beyond everyone else. He had an innate ability to not only read situations, what a situation involved on the ice, but also to understand the people around him.

I also had the utmost respect for Lindy Ruff, who was a great leader, and Craig Ramsay. These players were always focused on what they could do to help the team. They were very unselfish - they would put their bodies on the line, put their issues aside and really had a great focus on playing the game.

You have to be unselfish. At the same time, you have to make sure you're giving everything you have and you're playing with passion. You really have to make sure that you're focused on the ice.


Michael Peca (1997-98 - 1999-00)

 

I think, first and foremost, every good captain is a natural leader. Being a natural leader, you're going to lead by example. Because you can't have a voice in the locker room or hold others accountable unless you first do it all yourself, so you have to show it before you can talk about it.

Secondly, if you're on a good team and you're winning, being a captain is the easiest thing in the world. Where it becomes challenging is when things aren't going great. That's where real leadership shines through. Often, we really talk about a great captain as a single person, but no great captain is successful on their own. It's always a matter of support, much like a coaching staff or anything else. It's always a group effort. 

With that said, certain individuals can command respect, can command a room. Ultimately, that's what a captain is.

For me as a captain, I just wanted to lead by example, first and foremost. I didn't have much of a voice early on. I was fortunate to have a guy like Rob Ray in the locker room who was really good with his voice, and Brad May before he was traded was great to have. Those are two of many guys who were a great support staff to me.

It was funny, because before I was named captain, I was skating with Pat LaFontaine. We were skating together for part of the season before he got traded to the Rangers. He had told me, 'Look, you're going to be the next captain of this team,' and he gave me some advice. 

The most important thing he told me was this: 'Just be yourself and don't feel like you've got to solve everybody's problems.'

If a young player is named captain, they don't all of a sudden have to become coach, team psychologist, counselor, any of that stuff. They just need to be themselves. They need to lead by example. Because they're going to get a feel for their teammates if they don't have a real good grasp of it already. Just understand how to build relationships and trust in the group.

You've got to make sure you continue to play the right way - you're not getting lazy, you're not short-changing on the backcheck, you're still finishing checks, you're still doing a lot of the little things that can really inspire people through difficult times. You want to make sure that people are still using positive language on the bench, in the locker room. You want to make sure guys are still getting their workouts in, they're practicing hard. You do that by leading by example. And if you're doing that and you're seeing others who aren't doing it, then it gives you the right to challenge people. 

But those are the challenges, because I know at times when I was a young captain and things got bad - because I didn't have much of a voice - I'd get a little bit quiet and just hope my play would inspire. But then as you get a little bit older and you grow into it, you carry a voice and you're able to encourage people.


Brian Gionta (2014-15 - 2016-17)

 

You have to be willing to take the bullet when it's time. It is leadership by committee, so you're not there on an island by yourself. But you need to be that public face that is taking on adversity at all times. 

You're there to at times shield the rest of the team. You need to absorb outside pressure so the whole team doesn't feel it.

At times it's hard because you want to be emotional. You kind of have to key yourself down. You have to be able to - not let it go - but when you come back from a bad loss and you're heated, you have to be able to calm yourself. Face the questions and then be able to start the process of correcting things.

Those traits are part of how I led. Kind of by example. I'm more of a quiet guy at times. I was able to speak up a lot at times too, but on a day-to-day basis, it was about coming in and preparing yourself and your body to be at your best. Hopefully that's what people have seen.
 

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