Earlier this week, Jamie Langenbrunner was named captain of the U.S. Olympic hockey team, while Zach Parise, Brian Rafalski, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Suter were named alternates.
Chris Drury, supposedly named to Team USA for his leadership, if not his goal production, was noticeably missing from the American Olympic leadership structure.
Team USA GM Brian Burke said Drury didn't need a letter to provide leadership, but people were wondering just why Drury was taking up a roster spot if he wasn't going to be a formal leader.
The explanation is that Burke realizes Drury thrives under low expectations and wilts under high ones. Drury is Captain Clutch as long as he's not a team's focal point.
You can see this reflected in Drury's career. He was always solid in Colorado, a key part of their 2001 Stanley Cup-winning team. But there he was virtually anonymous around a veritable constellation of NHL stars.
He was traded to Calgary in 2002 (along with Stephane Yelle) for Derek Morris, Dean McAmmond and Jeff Shantz. Drury was expected to be the set-up man the Flames have seemed perennially unable to find for Jarome Iginla. Instead, Iginla, put up just 35 goals, down from the 52 he had scored the season before.
With the Drury experiment declared a bust in Calgary (and with the Flames unable to afford to re-sign him), he was traded to Buffalo the next season (along with Steve Begin) for Steve Reinprecht and Rhett Warrener.
Drury thrived in Buffalo because he was once again an anonymous cog. There was plenty of talent around him: Danny Briere, Miro Satan, JP Dumont, Jay McKee, Maxim Afinogenov, and Brian Campbell, to name just a few of the talented NHLers who surrounded Drury during his time as a Sabre. Drury wasn't the go-to guy; he was part of a committee of go-to guys.
With Drury no longer the focal point of a team, he relaxed and could focus on his game. Sometimes that was offense and sometimes it was defense. Basically, Drury could do what needed to be done, without having to worry that he wasn't doing enough. He even shared the team captaincy with Briere, alleviating another level of responsibility.
Drury eventually left Buffalo to sign as a free agent with the New York Rangers. He was signed along with Scott Gomez, and once again, Drury could blend in, hidden by stars like Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan. But as those players left and Drury was given the Rangers captaincy, he seemed to collapse under the attention.
Burke knows all of this and he's counting on Drury to thrive in the anonymity that comes with being the worst player on a team full of stars. And without a formal leadership role, Drury only needs to focus on doing what needs to be done. And that's always when he's been at his best.
Drury will be tremendous for the U.S. team. He'll block shots. He'll kill penalties. And he'll probably provide a few key goals. Frustratingly for Ranger fans, as soon as he's back from Vancouver, he'll probably return to his ineffective form.
Drury is Captain Clutch, but only as long as he doesn't feel expected to be.
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