When Daniel Alfredsson’s slapshot was redirected by Senators teammate Peter Schaefer for the game-winning goal over Buffalo Wednesday night, the wattage on the smile of Ottawa’s captain could have lit up a small metropolitan city.
It was, once again, an indication that Alfredsson isn’t close to the moribund, passionless slug his detractors would have you believe. It also proved that, when the Sens play together and receive anything resembling solid goaltending, they can be a force to reckon with.
As I noted in my blog, I was happiest for Alfredsson, closely followed by my own selfish self. For a couple days at least, neither he nor I will be subject to the Â“soft European undeserving of the captaincyÂ” tripe that’s arisen with greater frequency in more NHL markets this season.
There’s also a newer twist to the Euro-bashing this year. What is it? Pay attention, Â‘cause you’ll never see these words in this order in this space again: no team captained by a European player has won a Stanley Cup. Ever.
I hear that and I say: big bloody deal. Then, I say: captain, schmaptain.
Listen, European captains have been around since Peter Stastny wore the Â‘C’ for the Quebec Nordiques in 1985. They haven’t been a novelty for more than two decades now. Nearly half (13) of the league’s teams currently employ one as their designated leader. It is but a matter of time and probability theory that one will hoist a championship trophy before any of his North American teammates touch it.
More importantly, the idea that one leader is solely responsible for driving a team’s proverbial bus is the most harebrained hockey notion since the Islanders’ Captain Highliner logo. You’d think those who embrace the game as the ultimate team sport would know better than to credit on-ice successes to a single individual’s influence. Unfortunately for them, all available evidence suggests the opposite.
Sure, Steve Yzerman was instrumental in Detroit’s back-to-back Cup wins, but does he get either one without the contributions of Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov and Slava Kozlov?
Would Dave Andreychuk have won a Cup in Tampa Bay if Nikolai Khabibulin, Pavel Kubina, Fredrik Modin and Ruslan Fedotenko weren’t on the roster? Would Mark Messier and the New York Rangers have ended their 54-year championship drought if Alex Kovalev or Esa Tikkanen were playing for the Vancouver Canucks that year?
I think we all know the answer. Nevertheless, the yammering continues, as if in this day and age we’re supposed to believe character traits and physical tenacity run strictly along ethnic lines.
To keep on message, the yammerers have had to ignore or dismiss Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who has fought off gruesome injuries the past few years Â– and who played for 40 minutes after tearing a ligament in his elbow during the first period of Toronto’s game against Philadelphia.
They’ve had to ignore Nicklas Lidstrom, Yzerman’s successor as Red Wings captain who remains one of the most skilled, savvy players in the league. They’ve had to ignore Saku Koivu and his inspiring battle with cancer. They’ve had to ignore Kings captain Mattias Norstrom, one of the toughest hombres in the league.
Now, I don’t think Peter Forsberg, Alexei Yashin and Jaromir Jagr have any business captaining a rowboat, let alone an NHL team. But that has everything to do with their individual characteristics and nothing to do with their passport.
Europeans are here, their visors are clear, and hockey’s remaining provincialists need to get used to it. And the fact no Euro has worn a particular letter on his jersey when he won hockey’s ultimate prize is immaterial at best, xenophobic at worst.
Those who continue to dwell on it shame only themselves, not the players who left their friends and families on another continent so they could chase a dream not exclusive to any nationality.
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