Lee Fogolin was one of the greatest captains in Edmonton Oilers history.
He wore the ‘C’ when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe were kids, trained them in the art of leadership and then, one day, stepped to the centre of the dressing room and presented a jersey with a ‘C’ on the front and a ‘99’ on the back to Gretzky and told him he was ready to lead the Oilers forward to their future.
Shawn Horcoff became the 13th captain of the Oilers in charge of training the 14th one.
There’s every chance Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner or one of the other young players will be the next Oilers captain, with maybe a chance of having the NHL commissioner hand him the Stanley Cup to hoist some day.
Coach Tom Renney, when asked if that was maybe Horcoff’s ultimate role in wearing the ‘C’, didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“I think so,” he said.
“That’s what makes Shawn such a good choice.
“I think he’ll hand it off after doing a great job.
“I think this will be a really important legacy for him.”
The 32-year-old son of a former University of Alberta Golden Bear, in his 10th season with the team, is well enough schooled in Oilers history to know who Lee Fogoilin was and the role he played in developing not only Gretzky to wear the letter, but Messier, regarded by many to be one of the greatest leaders in all of sports history.
“I know what an impact Lee had,” said Horcoff. “And I know the situation these young players have in front of them.
“One of these young guys is going to be the next captain,” said Horcoff, saying he looks forward to the day he can do the same thing that Fogolin did the day he turned over the team to Gretzky.
You can ask why would anybody really want to be the 13th captain of a team which finished 30th in a 30-team league?
And conversely, is the guy you want to be your captain a grossly overpaid (down to $6.5 million this year from $7 million last year) guy with the second-worst plus-minus in the entire league, at minus 29?
The answers to those two questions, remarkably, are yes and yes.
“I knew I wanted a captain but I wasn’t sure I had one,” said Renney.
What choice did he have?
It was either Horcoff or Ales Hemsky left of the so-called leadership group which wore letters at this time last year, and Hemsky’s last-on-the-ice, first-off-the-ice example, combined with preferring a trip to the dentist over doing a media scrum as team spokesperson, pretty much eliminated him.
It might have been interesting to see Hemsky try it for a month to see how he might handle it, but Renney tried a version of the rotating captains thing with the New York Rangers in 2008 and decided not to do it again.
“Shawn took the young guys under his wing when they got here,” said Renney, who will have Horcoff centering Hall and Eberle on a second line to start the season.
“He has the requisite work habits. It doesn’t matter what day, the circumstances of that day or whether it’s January or June,” said Renney.
“We have a young team and he’s a very good, veteran leader who exemplifies what being a pro is all about.”
Horcoff, who has played all 637 of his games with the Oilers (133 goals, 374 points) wasn’t treating the moment, which included a ceremony in the dressing room, lightly.
“Obviously this is a tremendous honour,” he said.
“With the leaders they’ve had here, to be added to that list of names is very special. I’ve been an Oiler all my career and this is a lifelong dream come true.”
And he thinks he brings some things to the task.
“I put a lot into my career, to be the best pro I could be with hard work and determination. That can go a long way with a young group. My dad always emphasized to me that hard work always got its notice.
“One thing we’ll guarantee is 100% effort every day. I hope to teach guys you have to embrace it. And I look forward to our first playoff game, especially for these young guys who have never had the experience of playing a playoff game in Edmonton.”
It is an experience. And there’s only Hemsky with whom he’s shared the experience who remains.
BOX WITH COLUMN
Ron Chipperfield (1979-80)
Blair MacDonald (1980-81)
Lee Fogolin (1980-81 to 1982-1983)
Wayne Gretzky (1983-84 to 1987-88)
Mark Messier (1988-89 to 1990-91)
Kevin Lowe (1991-92)
Craig MacTavish (1992-93 to 1993-94)
Shayne Corson (1994-95)
Kelly Buchberger (1995-96 to 1998-99)
Doug Weight (1999-00 to 2000-01)
Jason Smith (2001-02 to 2006-07)
Ethan Moreau (2007-08 to 2009-10)