Patrick Marleau was named San Jose Sharks captain during the 2003-04 campaign and it was under his steady hand that Team Teal reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Marleau always had the respect of his teammates, but due to the extended playoff run, he is now viewed a little differently around the National Hockey League.
“It makes guys look at you a little differently around the league,” said Marleau.
While some players have difficulties performing with the “C” on their jersey, it has improved Marleau on the ice.
“I just want to do something every night to make the team win,” said Marleau. “If it’s not scoring, then I have to do it on defense. I didn’t want it to affect my game, but it added pressure to play hard and that helped.”
Every team sport has designated captains, but in the NHL, the label carries a little extra weight as the person tends to be the identity of the franchise.
“It’s a select group,” said Marleau. “There can only be 30 in the league.”
Marleau’s hockey skills are self-made, but his leadership style is partly who he is and a little blend from those around him.
“Our team has had a lot of great leaders in the past to learn from,” said Marleau. “Adam Graves said the one thing was to be yourself. You’ll know what to do and when to do it as you learn more over the years. There were so many others: Kelly Hrudey, Tony Granato, Gary Suter, Murray Craven, I just hate to leave people out. Guys like (Mike) Ricci and (Vincent) Damphousse.”
Marleau does share one common trait with Damphousse.
“They all did something different,” said Marleau. “With Vinnie, he didn’t say too much, but when he would, it was the right time and the guys definitely listened. Ricci kept the room loose, but you could tell when he would change his tone of voice and was getting a point across.”
Marleau’s first choice is to let his actions speak for him.
“I don’t think he’s the most vocal leader, if you believe in that,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “His leadership comes from how hard he works in practice and in games. That is the most important part.”
“I may wear the “C”, but to be a leader in our room, you have to go out and play,” said Marleau.
And if a point needs to be made verbally?
“He’s been a little more vocal and you can see his focus before games,” said Ron Wilson.
While being the captain bears certain responsibilities, there really isn’t anything Marleau can’t handle.
“Sometimes, when things aren’t going right, the media can come down on certain people, but I learned how to handle that from all the great people that played with me,” said Marleau.
While he proudly wears the “C” today, Marleau couldn’t imagine dealing with the additional pressures if he was awarded the letter directly out of juniors as some teams have tried to do with potential stars.
“It definitely would have been hard with no experience in the NHL,” said Marleau. “When you’re that young, you’re still trying to find your game. Then you wouldn’t have just yourself to worry about.”
Being the designated leader hasn’t been a difficult transition for Marleau as he doesn’t have to be in a player’s face to make a statement.
“He will make a big hit if it needs to be done and he is not the guy we want doing it,” said Alternate Captain Alyn McCauley. “When he does something like that, everybody notices.”
Marleau knows everyone needs to contribute if a franchise is going to have strong leadership.
“It is not just one person sitting another down,” said Marleau. “Kyle McLaren, Scott Hannan and others have all stepped up and talked to players. You shouldn’t have to do it too much. It comes from your teammates and your linemates. It’s the pressure to win.”
The pressure from within was a big factor in 2004’s playoff run. Now, Marleau sees the same situation taking shape.
“Our team two years ago had it and we're working on getting it here,” said Marleau. “The newer players are good and they have the character. We just had to start making it work on the ice and that is the hard part.”
Marleau has been the captain for more than one season and it’s a role he takes seriously.
“Right from the beginning, Patty was our guy,” said McCauley, who told the coaching staff Marleau was ready for the honor. “He is a little more confident. He probably senses from us that he’s our leader. A lot of people comment about his play, but there is a different part of him that wants to lead. It is a big responsibility and he has taken it seriously."
“He has a passion and determination to be successful,” said McCauley. “He cares a lot about his teammates and that comes out when we need it. He is as good as any captain I’ve played with.”
Marleau not only has the respect of the veterans, the young players also give him his due.
“He’s one of the best players in the league and a very nice guy to play with,” said rookie winger Milan Michalek. “He tells me if I do something wrong so I can do it right the next time. He knows what I’m going through.”
Marleau is taking it to another level in his on-ice performance as well. He set a career high with 57 points in 2003-04. This year, in just 45 games, Marleau has reached 51 points and his 32 helpers are a career best already.
The stats are great, but Marleau is looking forward to receiving the ultimate benefit of being a team captain.
“You’re the first one to receive the Stanley Cup,” said Marleau.