When Alex Ovechkin became the new captain of the Washington Capitals, it didn't surprise me at all. It's not a new concept to name your best player your captain.
I will never know how good of a captain he is to his teammates or to his coaches, but I feel that if the powers-that-be didn't feel Alex Ovechkin wasn't up to the task, they wouldn't do anything to embarrass him. That's why sometimes you don't know what you get until you have to deal with it, like being an NHL captain.
All NHL captains are players relied upon for many, many things.
Playing on a professional sports team is very much like being a member of a family. We all have one of those, so let's put the captain in the position of oldest brother or sister—one who thinks of everyone else first and themselves last.
It's someone who needs to use his own experiences to help others and to be able to be a quick thinker in tough situations. These people are very important components to successful hockey clubs.
But one area that is critical in being a successful is how captains interact with the NHL's referees. During a NHL contest, the captain may have several times where he is discussing the elements of the game. Over time, he may build a rapport with the referees.
Many times, these talented men are the eyes and ears for their coach, and have to be able to handle difficult situations and have a clear understanding of those situations. After all, they are representing their clubs, their coaches, and themselves.
As far as being an NHL captain, Alex Ovechkin has a lot to learn.
One thing he has to do is control himself during these on-ice situations, especially when a referee is at the players' bench talking with the coach. Trust me on this one. That's the coaches time to shine, and basically the referee is in the coach's office when he strolls over to the bench for whatever reason.
All players need to do is listen and say nothing. Whatever you do, don't tick off a referee for any reason. Don't be rude and get in your coach's face, either. Mouth shut, eyes and ears wide open.
Another thing is that you must show at all times that you are in control of your emotions and respect the job of the referee, even if you don't respect the man. That's to say, don't ever touch the referee just to make your point, or continue to make your point.
If you get the opportunity, and you will, make your point and leave it. Rightly or wrongly the referee will listen. It's all timing.
This is the hardest part for newly elected or appointed captains to learn. Some have it naturally, and others just have experience—whether it was in junior hockey, or in the minors.
Captains have to display control and be able to make good decisions in the bat of an eye. They have to be able to rely a message to their coaches, and do it effectively and efficiently, because referees are not in the habit of wanting to be in front of team benches all night explaining every call or non-call for that matter.
If it's warranted, the referees will pay a visit. Like it or not, that's the way it is.
The Capitals were in Montreal on Feb. 10 for a match with the Habs at Bell Centre. The Habs were able to pull out a thrilling 6-5 win in OT after the Caps tied it late in the third period.
During the second period, Alex Ovechkin lost his cool, and showed everyone that he might not be fully ready for this thing called being captain of the Capitals.
After Alex Ovechkin's forward momentum carried Habs defense man Roman Hamrlik and Habs goalie Carey Price into the net with the puck, Alex Ovechkin believed he had scored.
The goal was eventually waived off by referee Eric Furlatt after consulting the other on ice officials.
Alex Ovechkin was upset. The right call, as you can't have your forward progress interfere with the goalie while the puck is loose.
Had Alex Ovechkin shot the puck in the net first, and then his forward progress knocked Hamrlik and Price in the net, it would have been a goal.
At this time, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was asking the referee to come over and discuss the matter a little further. Alex Ovechkin was on the beach, sitting before Coach Boudreau, as referee Eric Furlatt began to explain the situation.
At this point, Alex Ovechkin began “chirping” at Referee Furlatt, who swiftly and quickly, with his finger pointing in Alex Ovechkin's direction, basically told the great eight to be quiet. From there, the conversation resumed between coach and referee.
I believe that if Alex Ovechkin were a more established Captain and did that he would have received a misconduct. Others think that because Ovechkin is a star in this league he can get away it. Nevertheless, Alex Ovechkin was told. So we thought.
Right after that, Alex Ovechkin was sent out for the next shift, and he was still chirping and yelling about the call. He grabbed the arm of referee Kyle Rahmen to complain some more.
I believe Ovechkin simply wanted to get the referees attention, and the Bell Center can be a very loud place. We all know that Ovechkin was still upset, but if he doesn't learn a little more respect where the referees are concerned, he might not last long as an NHL captain.
Or at least he will gain a reputation.
Ovechkin's outburst against a cameraman this week at the Olympics after Team Russia lost to Team Canada reminded me of that night. The need to control that temper, that fire inside.
That temper should be directed at scoring goals and working hard. Those are traits Ovechkin has, and I'm quite confident as time goes on he will become a great captain in all respects.
He may very well become a great captain and leader for the Capitals. Being a captain is not easy, and while that role has changed in hockey over the years, it is the captain who will be identified with his team.
Maybe the brass in D.C. should have selected another player to be captain. Nevertheless, it's Ovechkin that leads the team. I hope Ovechkin grows into the captain's role and takes that responsibility to the next level.
There is evidence to suggest that Ovechkin will run with this opportunity. Like I mentioned earlier, we don't know how he is in the room with his teammates. I believe he is a good teammate and leader. The next step is there for him.
Until that time, hopefully someone will show him the way.