SUN Hockey Pool

O captain, my captain

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Jarome Iginla knows the day is coming.

The Calgary Flames captain is well aware during the ups and downs of an NHL season, a moment will come when new head coach Mike Keenan will drop the hammer.

It's inevitable, like a Miikka Kiprusoff shutout.

"Sometimes a coach just loses it. It happens," said Iginla, who seen his fair share of coaches lose it. "It helps if you know why. Sometimes you don't know, it sounds funny, but that happens, too. It's important for him to explain it to you so you can see where they're coming from."

Therein lies part of Iginla's job, which goes well beyond goals and points. When it comes right down to it, the Flames are still his team.

It's still Iginla's room.

True, the coach is his boss, as is GM Darryl Sutter. Iginla, though, is the conduit, responsible for ensuring both sides are heard throughout the season.

"You take each situation as it comes," said Iginla, who took over as captain to start the 2003-04 season under a demanding Sutter. "There are times as a team you know you're going as well as you can, you're in a rut and you know it's coming. Then there are other times you feel it's going well and you don't agree. That's when the communication is important.

"I imagine it's still gonna be intense and that's fine, that's kinda the culture around here. What I do like, and we've been working on it as a group, is it's the NHL and you do want to enjoy it. When things are going well, you want to enjoy those things -- the strings and streaks, and comebacks to win a game -- and you want the coaching staff to enjoy it. You want everybody to be a part of it.

"If it's not going well, we're not happy, and things are uncomfortable, that's fine. That's the way it should be."

The dynamic between a coach and his captain is paramount in the NHL. It helps prevent a coach from 'losing the room.' It helps create winning teams.

Keenan is a big believer in the importance of that communication, more so than most people realize.

"It's not like it's his way or the highway," said Olli Jokinen, who became the Florida Panthers captain when Keenan was there. "People think it's always you do what Mike wants or you're going somewhere else but that's not true. He listens to his players.

"He wants (the captain) to be the link between the players and coaches and he's fair that way. With Iginla, he's gonna ask how the guys feel, if they need a day off, what they feel about practices.

"He's a very good talker and wants his captains and leaders on the same page."

Which brings us to Keenan's view on captaincy. He wants a strong leader to be the final voice. But he believes it goes beyond that.

"Even with Mark (Messier), we had four assistants. But we also had people in roles, they didn't wear a letter, but had a role as a subgroup," said Keenan. "That might be, for example, a Craig MacTavish, with people like (Greg) Gilbert, (Stephane) Matteau, (Brian) Noonan, (Joey) Kocur, (Sergei) Nemchinov, that was a subgroup on the team. The were the checkers, if you like, the physical players and they had a job to do.

"The team overall is divided into subgroups, your captain is an important member of your elite group, but that's only one of the groups amongst several that can be in the team structure.

"He has to have a relationship with all of the groups, and with the sub-leaders, if you like."

This year's Flames team has no shortage of potential lieutenants: Owen Nolan was captain in San Jose; Adrian Aucoin was the same in Chicago; and Craig Conroy has worn the 'C', too.

Then you have players such as Stephane Yelle, Rhett Warrener and Robyn Regehr with leadership skills, too.

Some rooms have been ripped apart by having so many strong personalities.

Some rooms achieved great things.

Iginla sees it as a huge positive for a team that's fallen well short of its goal the last couple of seasons.

"It's not a matter of feeling it's too much or there'll be too much input. It's great," he said. "You want to ask, 'How did you do things?' We want everybody to be involved in our team, to get that pulse and to learn from each other."

When it comes to talk of Keenan and captains, one chapter stands out: The Messier years. Keenan -- who quickly lists other great captains he's coached such as Mark Howe, Dirk Graham and Chris Pronger -- is still linked most often with Messier.

They won a Cup together in New York, which cemented Messier's status as a leader, even with the disaster that followed in Vancouver.

There are similarities between Messier and Iginla, who grew up idolizing No. 11.

"Great things are said about Mark, and rightfully so, but he was quiet. When he would speak, they would listen," Keenan said. "He wasn't speaking all the time, but when he felt it was time to say something, he would.

"His fire was in his eyes at all times. You saw it when he played. He didn't have to say things, you could sense it. You could look at him and say, 'He's ready to go. I guess I'd better get ready.' There's different ways of communicating."


Videos

Photos