By Sean Hartnett
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Not just any player can carry the burden that comes when the letter ‘C’ is affixed their hockey sweater. There is a kind of mentality that separates great captains from the ones that crumble under the weight of leading and carrying a franchise a storied franchise like the New York Rangers.
Mike Richards, formerly of the rival Philadelphia Flyers was an example of a talented player who was assigned unrealistic expectations from the time that he was drafted. Immediately, the Flyers’ organization heaped excessive praise upon Richards by comparing him to a young Bobby Clarke. The only way that Richards was going to justify that label would have been winning multiple Stanley Cups. It was an unfair to place those unusually high demands and captaincy upon a 23-year old that was learning on the fly.
The Rangers on the other hand, allowed Callahan to learn under the experienced Chris Drury. Throughout his career, Drury was viewed around hockey as a tremendously well-prepared player who had been through playoff battles at a young age as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. Not only did Callahan have the benefit of seeing how Drury conducted himself in Rangers’ locker room but also in the rare international setting.
During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Callahan saw the way that Drury and Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner brought together a team that most expected not to medal all the way to the Gold medal game. Team USA collectively raised their game when needed throughout the tournament and that was in no doubt due to the tremendous leadership group assigned by Brian Burke and Ron Wilson.
Some organizations around the NHL use captaincy as an incentive to cater to their star players or keep any an upcoming free agent from leaving town. In the case of Callahan, it’s something that he’s earned throughout his career. From the time that he entered the league at 21, Callahan showed teammates and fans that there’s something extra inside of him. He’s always played with a rare combination of tenacity, poise and unselfishness for the Blueshirts’ cause.
I’ve never viewed Callahan as a player who is overly-blessed with talent. What he’s earned has been through sheer desire and commitment. That not to say he isn’t talented but rather to point out that Callahan gets the most possible out of his natural abilities.
He’s always been a work in progress, never allowing complacency into his game and always searching for that next gear. It seems that every year he improves his overall game. Last season, Callahan had made the leap from opportunistic grinder to natural scorer. If not limited to 60 games, it was likely that he would have scored 30 goals and eclipsed a total of 60 points.
Callahan simply builds upon what he’s learned year-by-year and focuses on the task at hand. Even the way he reacted to receiving the honor of captaining the Rangers was that of a true professional who takes things in stride. The words echo that of model pro who isn’t susceptible to getting carrying away with the title and knows how to handle the role.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to wear a ‘C’ on a team, but the way I’m going to approach it, I’m going to approach it the same as wearing an ‘A.’ The things I do on the ice and off the ice, there’s a reason I feel I got the ‘A’ and I’ve continued on, and now with the ‘C.’ Obviously, there comes with it a little more of a leadership role and some more responsibilities, but at the same time, I have to continue to do what I do and not let a letter on my sweater affect my game or how I approach a game, ” he described on the Rangers’ official website.
Callahan’s qualities are that of the prototype ‘John Tortorella player.’ He carries all the traits that his head coach demands and sets the tone for the Rangers’ unrelenting style of play. Having him as the main voice in the locker room will allow new additions to the Blueshirts’ roster and young prospects to follow his lead.
Rangers’ General Manager Glen Sather shared his thoughts on the decision on the team’s official website, “Ryan Callahan embodies all the leadership qualities we seek from our Captain. He leads by example with courage and tireless work ethic on and off the ice, which is why he is so deserving of this honor.”
Now was the perfect time to give him the ‘C.’ Callahan has been long-groomed for this role and isn’t going to get over-burdened by expectations. He’s as a natural of a fit to lead the Blueshirts as one could ever attempt to find.
Rangers fans – was Callahan the obvious choice for captain? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.