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Couture Relishes Being Alternate Captain

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

SAN JOSE -- There are few places, outside of Sesame Street, where there's been more discussion about letters in recent years than in and around the San Jose Sharks locker room.

Who should have the C? Who should get the A's?

Who once had the C or an A and no longer does?

Who believes he should have a C or an A?

When forward Logan Couture wasn't one of the four Sharks selected to wear one of the alternate captain's A's before the start of the 2014-15 season, he said at the time that he was "disappointed," but now downplays the significance of the honor.

"Last year, I didn't have one. This year, I had one," Couture said Saturday. "I don't think anything's changed. The way I approach how I come to the rink on a daily basis, I don't change."

Still, in his first season wearing an A, Couture has taken his game and the Sharks to another level. He's one of the main reasons they're still alive to host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on Sunday (8 p.m ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Couture had one goal and two assists in the Sharks' 4-2 win in Game 5 on Thursday, his fourth three-point performance in as many games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when facing elimination or with a chance to close out a series.

"I just don't want to go home, don't want the season to end," Couture said. "I wish I did it every game, but it's a tough league to score in, to produce in."

Couture, 27, has done it often enough; he leads the NHL and has set a Sharks postseason record with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 22 games. That puts him in elite company.

Since 1997, three players had more points in a playoff year: Evgeni Malkin (36) and Sidney Crosby (31) during the Penguins' 2009 run to the Stanley Cup and the Philadelphia Flyers' Daniel Briere (30) in 2010.

"It's nice, but it's a personal thing," Couture said. "We've got bigger things that we're looking at."

For much of the past 12 seasons, the biggest mystery about the Sharks concerned why they always seemed to disappoint in the playoffs despite being deep and talented. Leadership became a focal point when Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton each were stripped of the captain's C, and general manager Doug Wilson searched for the winning formula.

The Sharks may have finally found it with Joe Pavelski in his first season as captain Couture and Thornton as alternates. In explaining those decisions Saturday, Peter DeBoer, who is in his first season as coach, raved about Thornton, calling him, "one of the greatest leaders I've been around, hands down."

DeBoer also spoke about how Couture has "embraced" being an alternate.

"I think he's earned it," DeBoer said. "When I got here, probably the toughest job I had was sorting out the leadership. There's so many quality people here. The guys not wearing letters right now are [Marc-Edouard] Vlasic and Marleau and [Brent] Burns. You've got guys [like] Joel Ward. We've been inclusive in making sure that every leadership meeting we have, that group is much bigger than guys that wear the letters.

"But those were tough decisions and to all our group's credit, everyone put their egos aside and the decisions we made, everyone was 100 percent on board."

Couture insists having the letter hasn't changed who he is. He's been brutally honest about how poorly the Sharks have played at times in the Cup Final, but was similarly blunt after they missed the playoffs last season, saying their locker room culture was "not great."

"I mean, I'm not going to sit here and lie to you guys," Couture said. "You ask a question and I will answer it honest. It's what you're taught when you're young, right? Answer everything honestly."

Former Sharks forward Ryane Clowe isn't surprised by Couture's emergence as a clutch player. As his frequent linemate, Clowe was impressed by Couture's "consistency" on the ice from the moment the Guelph, Ontario native broke into the NHL with the Sharks in 2009-10.

The change Clowe has noticed is in Couture's maturation into a leader.

"Obviously, there was some controversy in San Jose with all the A's and C's," Clowe said. "He was a guy that always wanted that responsibility. He always had the game for it, but there was some stuff that on a day-to-day basis he probably had to grow into a bit more. You could see from a distance him maturing a bit every year. I think Logan can be an all-star, an Olympian, a Stanley Cup champion. He can be what he wants to be, but it's up to him.

"He had to realize that with that responsibility of wearing a letter that it's an everyday thing. When he was younger, I don't know if he understood that as much, but I think as he's matured he realized that it's not optional. It's what you do every day and how you carry yourself, so I think he's grown into that as well."

Couture is available to talk to the media following wins and losses, but claims not to be much of a talker in the locker room otherwise.

"I try to lead by example," he said. "I'm not the type of guy that yells and screams in the dressing room or anything like that."

On the ice, he's been most noticeable in the big moments, as he was in Game 5. That's the best way to lead.

"The last few years he's stepped up," Pavelski said. "You could see he's wanted that responsibility. He's been there and you see that. I would say he's definitely stepped his game up in the way he handles himself."

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

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