Game One: Horcoff Looked Like a Leader by the Prof

No surprise: the Oilers named veteran centre Shawn Horcoff as their new team captain on Wednesday. Bit of a surprise: Horcoff looked like a great leader on Thursday, playing well and seeming to inspire the young Oilers on and off the ice.

Here’s a bit of Oilers’ history. Horcoff is the15th player to wear the “C” since the team joined the WHA (in 1972) and the NHL (in 1979). Take a pencil: how many can you name right off the? Give yourself an A if you can name 10 Oilers’ captains and an extra point for naming the three Oilers’ captains who were also Oilers’ Head Coaches. [In case you want to check, see below.]

Horcoff succeeded Ethan Moreau, claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets last June after the Oilers put him on waivers. Horcoff is 32 – old for a hockey player – but young for a leader. He is starting his 10th NHL season, after Edmonton took him in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 1998 NHL entry draft.

So, how good can Horcoff be as a leader? He strikes me as a solid guy, with many leadership characteristics – except, perhaps, his ability to put up big goals and assists numbers – a trait that seems to be popular with other hockey teams but not, obviously, with the current Oilers. It seemed fitting that one bounced off him into the net – he was right where he had to be, blocking for the kids.

The Oilers need Horcoff to be a good leader because they need great leadership specifically and leadership is really important to any successful sports. A good captain can lead his team to success and can also help a young team and younger players be better. On the other hand, weak leadership skills can hinder a team’s chances of competing and bonding successfully – something last year’s Oilers know all too well.

What do the current Oilers need? Obviously, they need to escape injury and create space for young players to grow. But, the Oilers also need a leadership that provides emotional strength and models conditioning in every sense of the word – physical and mental. Leadership will be needed when more established teams benefit from biased officiating – we all know young teams don’t get all the calls veterans do. Sure, leadership does come from coaches, but leaders also emerge from within the team itself. Ergo, selecting a good captain is crucial.

Horcoff needs to do more than wear the captain’s “C.” He must also lead by his example and passionate belief that the team is more important than the individual. How he handles conflicts that eventually rise when the team loses (is there a chance they won’t?) a few close games and comes under pressure will be crucial. We don’t yet know how the youthful Oilers will act under stress, but we do know that Horcoff’s ability to handle problems will be crucial. How does he show his own anger? How does he behave professionally and responsibly despite his own personal feelings of frustration? All keys!

Here are a couple of other areas that sometimes slip under the radar. For example, how good will he be at building relationships with other members of the team, in good times and bad? For example, when a young player gets sent to the minors? I hope Horcoff takes each player – coming or going – aside. He clearly needs to talk with those going down or welcome those young players coming up for a shot. Plus, there is an extra burden being captain while still playing. It can be difficult to inspire, motivate, and raise team morale while you are trying to raise your own spirits.

So far, Horcoff has passed the test. We know he will be dependable. We bet he will be a good listener. We hope he will be motivating and inspiring, and will remain calm and positive under pressure. If he can do these things, he will only add to the Oiler’s success – whatever it might be – this season. We can hope for a great amount – the first positive step has been taken.

Team Captains
Note: This list includes Oiler captains from both the NHL and WHA.

Al Hamilton, 1972–76
Glen Sather, 1976–77
Paul Shmyr, 1977–79
Ron Chipperfield, 1979–80
Blair MacDonald, 1980–81
Lee Fogolin, 1981–83
Wayne Gretzky, 1983–88
Mark Messier, 1988–91
Kevin Lowe, 1991–92
Craig MacTavish, 1992–94
No Captain, 1994–95 (Lockout)
Shayne Corson, 1995
Kelly Buchberger, 1995–99
Doug Weight, 1999–2001
Jason Smith, 2001–07
Ethan Moreau, 2007–10
Shawn Horcoff, 2010–present

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