Sidney Crosby is the face of the NHL and hockey in Canada, so it’s only natural that he’ll be the country’s captain at next month’s Sochi Olympics.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain, who scored the gold-medal-winning overtime goal against the United States in Vancouver four years ago, got the nod to wear the “C” this time around.
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators were named alternate captains, Hockey Canada announced Sunday morning.
“Sidney, Jonathan and Shea have been leaders on the international stage in the past, as well as with their NHL teams,” coach Mike Babcock said in a statement. “These three players will be at the forefront of our efforts in Sochi, but we are confident we have 25 players on our roster that will lead in their own way and allow our team to be successful.”
There will be no shortage of leadership in Sochi given the presence of six NHL captains, but it starts with Crosby.
“Playing for Team Canada, playing in the Olympics is a great opportunity,” Crosby told reporters at Penguins practice. “But being able to be named the captain is definitely an honour.”
Crosby was made the youngest captain in NHL history when he got the “C” for the Pittsburgh Penguins six and a half years ago. In 2009 he raised the Stanley Cup as captain.
At the 2010 Olympics, Crosby was an alternate along with defenceman Chris Pronger and winger Jarome Iginla. The 26-year-old Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native doesn’t expect his mind-set to change much.
Veteran defenceman Scott Niedermayer captained that team and said before his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in November that he had no doubt Crosby is ready to assume that role.
“He’s very mature,” Niedermayer said. “He was probably ready when he was 16. He was probably ready in 2010, and the thinking was he’s going to have enough pressure on him just from who he is and things like that that he doesn’t need one more thing to worry about, give it to some old guy that’s just trying to figure things out out there. I’m sure he would do very well.”
Toews seemed like the only other logical option, based on performing in 2010 and leading the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups. Last week he acknowledged the possibility of being named captain.
“I’m ready for any role,” Toews said in Montreal. “Last time, I played five, six, maybe seven minutes at the start of the tournament in Vancouver. By the end of it, the coaches had more confidence in me. They put me in more defensive situations. This time around won’t be different. Whether I’m captain — or not — whatever. I’m going to Russia to win a gold medal like everyone else.”
This will be the second Olympics for most of the core, including the leadership group.
“Honestly, it doesn’t get old,” Crosby said in Vancouver of just making the team. “That feeling doesn’t get old. The appreciation and being proud to represent your country, it’s the same for everybody.”
Asked if he preferred “Captain Canada” over his current nickname of “Sid the Kid,” Crosby said: “I’ll let you guys worry about that.” Ryan Smyth of the Edmonton Oilers has that moniker, and Crosby expects it to stick with the Hockey Canada mainstay despite this announcement.
Russia already named Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings as captain. It’s Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins for Slovakia and Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens for the Czech Republic.
The United States has yet to name its captain, though general manager David Poile singled out Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and David Backes as the U.S. leadership group.
The men’s ice hockey tournament in Sochi begins Feb. 12. Canada opens against Norway on Feb. 13.
Caroline Ouellette was named captain of Canada’s women’s team. Hayley Wickenheiser will be a permanent alternate, while Jayna Hefford and Catherine Ward will rotate the second “A.”
“There is a tremendous amount of experience in our dressing room, and there is no shortage of qualified candidates to wear a letter,” women’s coach Kevin Dineen said in a statement. “The players we have selected as captain and alternates in Sochi have shown their dedication and commitment to the team and its end goal throughout a long season, and we feel they are the ideal choices to lead our team through the Olympic experience.”
Ouellette, from Montreal, is a three-time Olympic gold medallist and has been an assistant captain for the past several years. Sochi will mark the first time the 34-year-old will captains the Canadian women’s team.
“I was very surprised,” Ouellette said Sunday in Calgary. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. Kevin came in recently. I think he wanted to see how the team was doing before he made his decision. I think we have a dozen players who are captains within their own teams. We have so many great leaders. I think it could have been many of us. I’m very honoured.”
Wickenheiser is Canada’s all-time leader in international games (265), goals (166) and assists (204).
“Obviously it’s disappointing not to be able to wear the ‘C’ but at the same time I think it gives our team a different dynamic and maybe something we need going into Sochi in order to get everybody going in the right direction,” Wickenheiser said.
“I guess I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. At the same time, sometimes you can lead from different areas. If it’s a better decision for the team and gives us a better chance to win a gold medal, then that’s what we have to do.”
Canada’s women’s team opens play Feb. 8 against Switzerland.
Greg Westlake was named captain of Canada’s sledge hockey team. Brad Bowden and Adam Dixon are the alternates.
“This is the leadership team we have had in place since 2011, and we have the utmost confidence in them leading our team into Sochi,” sledge team coach Mike Mondin said in a statement. “Greg, Brad and Adam have worn the Team Canada jersey with pride every time they have put it on, and have earned the right to wear a letter on the game’s biggest stage.”