What does the “C” stand for in Vancouver?
BY ROB REATH
Credibility, confidence, courage and composure…or confusion and chaos, I am not certain. The Vancouver Canucks recently named goaltender Roberto Luongo as their team captain. There are scores of problems with this kind of thinking but first off, it should be pointed out the Luongo is a top notch athlete, an upstanding citizen and is among the best in the business at his position, so one could understand the temptation to buck the 60-year trend of not having a goalie as a team captain.
Actually, it’s more than a trend, it’s against league rules.
Former Montreal Canadien Bill Durnan was the last netminder who wore the “C,” and he often disputed ref calls to buy his team a rest when they needed it.
The rule prohibiting goalies from serving as captains was put in place and all teams since then realized that there are other reasons why it makes little sense to pass over 20 skaters for the honour of leading their clubs. First, there is the obvious slight to those who felt they may have been ready for the role. There is also the problem that there is no one actually wearing the “C” on their sweater for the player to rally around when things get tough. The “A” has meaning, but it came from the term assistant and was later converted to alternate to give it more meaning.
That’s right it needed a makeover, and as such there is still something of a perception that it is a cute title without the same merits of a Captain’s “C” in most hockey arenas. Everyone involved with hockey on a serious level knows what Bobby Clarke, Mark Messier and Dale Hunter could do for their teams with an inspired shift. They single handedly reshape the mindset of their teamates. They might cross the lines of good conduct to send a message to their opponents. They might chastise others for not doing enough of what they were doing.
How does a goalie do that, when he plays a different position, with different rules, different boundaries, different expectations?
Imagine for a moment it’s playoff season, and Vancouver’s opponent just got lucky while firing on all cylinders for five minutes and scored five goals.
The coach pulls Luongo from the game, and then the team’s captain is found watching from the bench due to the perceptions that he isn’t playing well enough and is not likely to be called upon to return all night. How inspired would the Canucks be then? How inspired would their opponents be knowing they just chased the other team’s captain out of the game?
Any player can have an off night, but skaters sitting out for extra shift wouldn’t be noticed in such an obvious way.
If a team is taking liberties with a finesse player or running the goalie too often, it is generally the captain’s role to ensure something is done about it. That also leads to more questions. Of course there are others to deal with that type of thing, but there are times when the leader has to step up to prove he’s in charge. I don’t that can be done from between the pipes.
There have been other goalies with strong leadership qualities like Billy Smith, Ron Hextall and others, yet their teams never considered them for the captaincy. The quick reaction would be to decide against that because their clubs already had good leaders, which begs the question: Are the Canucks suggesting they don’t?
Further, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t unspoken insult in all of this. Like winning an Academy Award and being told you won the award but you don’t get the statue. I don’t think the insult is to Luongo in any way, but rather is to the team skating without a “C” on any player’s sweater and to the fans of that team watching them when they are down and most need inspiration.