Dave Molinari On The Penguins -- The process of growing into 'The Big C' is a challenging and complex one
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There are, at any given moment, up to 30 captains in the National Hockey League.
The mandate is pretty much the same for each, but the "C" stitched onto their sweaters is about the only thing they all have in common.
Some are in-your-face motivators who don't hesitate to challenge underachieving teammates, loudly and openly. Guys who believe leadership can be measured in decibels, and that overturning a few tables to make a point never is a bad idea.
Others are more measured in their actions, speaking out only when they believe it's absolutely necessary and rarely doing it above a conversational tone.
Steve Yzerman, the future Hall of Famer who led Detroit for more than two decades, embodied that approach. So does Joe Sakic, who the Penguins will face for perhaps the final time when they visit Colorado Thursday.
Which means that might be the last opportunity Sidney Crosby, the Penguins' 20-year-old captain, will have to go head-to-head against one of the men who helped to shape his idea of what a captain should be.
"Those two guys, to me, were great leaders and great role models," Crosby said. "They were just themselves. That's what's so important, and what I respected so much. They were themselves.
"They didn't try to do anything more, or anything less. They did everything, as far as on the ice. You'd see them block shots, win faceoffs and do a lot of little things that maybe go unnoticed sometimes.
"That's being a leader -- leading in all areas, not just scoring a big goal once in a while."
Don't get the wrong idea, though. Sakic and Yzerman scored plenty of critical goals, and set up even more. Yzerman is the No. 6 scorer in NHL history -- he retired with 32 more points than Mario Lemieux -- and Sakic sits in eighth place, having passed Phil Esposito earlier this season.
But for all their clutch performances, it is their leadership style that seems to have made the most indelible impression on Crosby, who has embraced their approach.
"He's not a very vocal guy in the locker room," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "He'll say something when it needs to be said, but he leads by example. He's been doing that his whole life, I guess.
Crosby always has been the consummate self-motivator -- "He always wants to get better," right winger Colby Armstrong said. "He's the hardest-working guy. I don't think he'll change" -- and taking on the responsibilities that go with being a captain certainly hasn't changed that.
"If anything, hopefully it makes me better, as far as motivating me to be my best every night," Crosby said. "Not that I think I need that motivation, but at the same time, it might put responsibility on your shoulders, to make sure that you lead by example."
Road trips made for ...
The Penguins will fly to Minnesota after practice tomorrow to begin a weeklong trip that will take them to St. Paul, Denver, Long Island and New Jersey.
It will be their first extended stretch on the road this season -- they've played only three away games to date -- and is sure to present numerous opportunities for guys to spend more off-ice time with their teammates than they do under normal circumstances.
Or, as former Penguins forward Petr Nedved once expressed it on the eve of a lengthy trip when he played here, "There's going to be a lot of bondage going on."
The Bill love outdoor hockey
Most of the Penguins seem genuinely excited about participating in that outdoors game in Buffalo,N.Y., Jan. 1.
The same appears to be true of the Sabres, and the NHL certainly is enthused about what it considers an opportunity to introduce its product to some fans who aren't part of the traditional base.
But a case could be made that no one might be looking forward to the game quite as much as the Buffalo Bills, based on a report in the Buffalo News.
It said the NHL will pay the Bills about $250,000, plus expenses, for staging the game on their home turf, Ralph Wilson Stadium.
And even though that facility was paid for -- and is owned by -- taxpayers, the Bills will keep every penny per a deal negotiated by local officials about a decade ago to do everything possible to keep the franchise from relocating.
Part of that agreement, the News reported, calls for the Bills to get the revenue from all events at the stadium, even those that have nothing to do with football.
Under the radar
Dozens of former Penguins moved into coaching after they retired as players --- the list runs from Doug Shedden to Ted Nolan, Warren Young to Randy Carlyle, Kevin McClelland to Terry Ruskowski and countless others --- but few have taken on a position with a profile as low as the one Blain Stoughton recently assumed.
He was named coach of the team at the University of Cincinnati, where the Bearcats have a semi-varsity program. That puts it somewhere between club teams and full-fledged varsity sports such as football and basketball.
Stoughton, the Penguins' first-round draft choice in 1973, has other coaching stops on his resume, although none in recent years. He was an assistant coach in Cincinnati (International Hockey League) Springfield, Mass., (American Hockey League) and head coach of the Austin Ice Bats of the Western Professional Hockey League.
He played just 34 games with the Penguins.
First Published October 28, 2007 12:00 am