Sidney Crosby will be the only one wearing the “C” on his jersey at the Sochi Olympics, but there will be no shortage of captains in the Team Canada locker room.
When Canada won gold at the 2010 Games, it had nine NHL captains on its roster and two more who went on to serve in that role. This time around, the team has six, including Penguins star Crosby, who was chosen to take the leadership lead.
“I don’t see why that’s not a good thing,” said Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, one of two alternate captains for Canada. “I think a lot of those guys are leaders in their own way because they understand what it takes to win. And they understand that everyone has to do their job and play their role. ... I think you’ll find that leadership a huge advantage for us.”
With six NHL captains — Crosby, Toews, second alternate Shea Weber of the Predators, Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks, John Tavares of the Islanders and Jamie Benn of the Stars — Canada leads all Olympic teams. In total 15 are going: Dustin Brown of the Kings, David Backes of the Blues and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers for the United States; Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings, Henrik Sedin of the Canucks and Gabriel Landeskog of the Avalanche for Sweden; Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals for Russia; Mikko Koivu of the Wild for Finland and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins for Slovakia.
The presence of so many leaders in one dressing room and on one bench creates a different dynamic at the Olympics. But those who have been through it don’t consider it a problem.
“It might be a little bit different, ” Weber said. “I think it’s good to have that many captains. You know that everyone’s a leader and is capable of doing what it takes to win.”
Crosby, Toews, Weber and Getzlaf were all part of Canada’s gold-medal-winning 2010 team. All but Weber have been on Stanley Cup-winning teams, too.
Getzlaf wasn’t yet an NHL captain when Anaheim won the Cup in 2007, and neither was defenceman Chris Pronger. That job belonged to Scott Niedermayer, who captained Canada in Vancouver. Pronger called him a “very quiet leader.”
Surrounded by so many other leaders at those Olympics, Pronger said captains have to be themselves.
“If you’re a leader, you need to be a leader,” he said in a phone interview. “If you’re a vocal guy you need to be vocal. If you’re a lead-by-example guy, lead by example. If you’re a guy that does whatever it takes to win on the ice, then you’re that type of player and you exude those qualities on the ice. I don’t think you can step outside of yourself and say, ‘Oh, we got enough talkers, I’m going to be quiet.’ You’re not going to be involved in the game the same way.”
It didn’t hurt four years ago, when Crosby, Niedermayer and Toews were joined by fellow NHL captains Joe Thornton of the Sharks, Rick Nash of the Blue Jackets, Jarome Iginla of the Flames, Brenden Morrow of the Stars, Eric Staal of the Hurricanes and Mike Richards of the Flyers.
Based on the experience from 2010, Toews isn’t worried about a leadership clash.
“A bunch of guys that are down to earth and want to do anything they can to win, so I’m assuming that it’s going to be much the same this time around,” Chicago’s captain said.
After seeing how it worked last time around, Crosby understands the role of an Olympic captain is a bit different than it is in the NHL. Having almost a dozen players returning from Vancouver helps.
“Lots of really good leaders there, lots of guys with a lot of experience,” Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh on Sunday. “Short event like that, you just want to come together quickly as a team and make sure that we’re all on the same page.”
Being on the same page means some captains must defer to others, though Pronger said it’s not necessarily a case of taking a step up or step down or needing one designated player to speak.
Given the personalities of these captains, Doug Armstrong of Canada’s management team doesn’t anticipate any issues.
“My experiences at the world championships or the previous Olympics: Everyone’s pulling their rope in the same direction, right from the day they get there till the end,” said Armstrong, whose captain with the Blues, Backes, is on the U.S. team. “The need of a leader to pull everybody back in line isn’t as important as it might be on your NHL team. All these guys know how to win, they know what to say. Ultimately someone will step up and say something very important. It might be one of the guys wearing the letter, but the good thing is the players here don’t need a letter to be a leader.”
That’s the case for Getzlaf, whom Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau expects to be “just great” in the locker room in Sochi.
“If they lean on him, he’ll be great. If he has to take a little back seat to some other guys, he’ll be great. He really knows where it’s at,” Boudreau said. “I’m sure some of the teams are going to have to change the (players’) positions that they’ve been in all their life, whether it’s from a 25-minute guy to a 14-minute guy or whatever. I don’t know if they’ll all be able to handle it. Ryan will. He’ll be able to handle it. He’ll do whatever it takes for his country to win. As far as leadership goes, he’s going to be as good as anybody there.”
Based on what’s at stake, accepting different roles will be necessary for everyone, not just the captains.
“I don’t think you can find one guy that’s not excited to be there, whether he’ll be playing the same minutes he gets with his club team, or much less,” Toews said. “Everyone is pumped to have that opportunity.”
With files from Kelsey Patterson in Montreal