Let the players pick captain

 

They know better than any coach which teammate they want as a leader on and off the ice

 
 
 
 
The Canadiens will have a  captain this season, the second since Saku Koivu left the  organization.
 

The Canadiens will have a captain this season, the second since Saku Koivu left the organization.

Photograph by: John Kenney, Gazette file photo

MONTREAL - It seems like only yesterday (well, almost) that your Canadiens were packing their bags with memories certain to last a lifetime for those who were there. I ask you: After sneaking into the playoffs in their last game of the regular season, how do you forget their stunning seven-game victories over the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Now, here we are with training camp only days away en route to a season with new challenges and important decisions to be made. Among them: the naming of a team captain after playing last season without one for the first time in franchise history.

A few days ago, Scott Gomez suggested to colleague Dave Stubbs that the failure to name a captain wasn't as big a deal as it was made out to be because leadership was liberally spread around the dressing room. Gomez said: "Whoever's named captain is going to have an easy job."

Gomez is dead wrong, of course. Wearing the C is never an easy job -particularly in Montreal, where many of the franchise's greatest players have worn it. It carries with it a heavy responsibility and being voted to the post is something to treasure forever.

Don't take my word for it. Jean Beliveau was on 10 Stanley Cup teams, yet the memory of being voted captain replacing Doug Harvey in 1961 still shines brightly.

"All those Stanley Cups, each one means so much," Beliveau once told me. "You work so hard. You start in September and you don't stop working. With Toe (coach Blake) it was always first place. It's all that mattered, but one of my greatest thrills was when I was elected captain. I was not in line for it. I was not even an alternate captain, and I was injured at the time.

"We had an exhibition game in Vancouver and then we went to Seattle and Trail," Beliveau recalled. "We're in this little hotel and I've got this really bad cold. I'm sweating. I'm coughing, I'm weak, but I went with the team to the arena.

"Toe came to me: 'Jean, can you dress?' he asked. 'The arena is full. They want to see you play. I've got to dress you,' he said.

" 'Toe, I haven't got much, but I'll play a couple of shifts,' I told him.

"Second shift," recalled Beliveau, "there's this big guy on defence. I tried to go around him, but I had no legs. We fell. I pulled a ligament in my knee. Two months out," he said with a sigh.

"So I'm in a cast when the boys are having the vote for captain. Toe's fedora is being passed around the room, and we're dropping the little papers into it. You could vote for Dickie, for 'Boom', for Tom Johnson or for me. By then, I had been 33 days in a cast. I never thought for a second anybody would vote for me. I voted for Dickie," he said.

"There was supposed to be two ballots," said Beliveau, "and after the first, Toe told me two guys had tied. Me and Geoffrion. 'You two will be the only guys on the second ballot,' he said to me."

Once again, the players tossed 'little papers' into Blake's fedora. Minutes later, an exercised "Boom Boom" stormed out of the room, sat down in the Forum penalty box -with tears trickling down his cheeks.

"What's the problem?" I asked him.

"Those (expletive deleted) picked Beliveau," he snapped.

"So what's wrong with that?" Geoffrion was asked.

"Yeah, 'Boom' was a little upset," I remember Beliveau telling me. "But ah ... you know 'Boom'. He was upset that day, but the next morning he was all right. After the vote, I went up to see Mr. Selke: 'I don't deserve to be captain of this team,' I told him. He said: 'What would you want me to do? Go downstairs and tell those players they picked the wrong guy?' "

Head coach Jacques Martin says he will name a captain before the Canadiens open the regular season after discussions with other off-ice officials. Bad move. Coaches and/or general managers don't select captains. Players do. It's the players who know better than any coach which player they want as a leader on and off the ice. I can't think of a single instance when Canadiens players were not asked to vote for their captain.

The responsibility can entail a lot of distractions in a Canadian city, which is why Roberto Luongo decided to relinquish the captaincy in Vancouver yesterday after only two seasons.

rfisher@montrealgazette.com

 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Canadiens will have a  captain this season, the second since Saku Koivu left the  organization.
 

The Canadiens will have a captain this season, the second since Saku Koivu left the organization.

Photograph by: John Kenney, Gazette file photo

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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