SUN Hockey Pool

The de facto captain

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

DENVER -- Craig MacTavish and Kevin Lowe wondered if this was the right time or place to talk about the man with the invisible 'C'.

It might be better when the run was done and the Edmonton Oilers knew if they were in or out of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

But as the Oilers attempt to continue their remarkable 'Stayin' Alive' story here tonight with 12 wins in their last 16 games, accomplished by a lineup that includes 16 of 20 players aged 25 or less (not to mention the franchise record of man games lost due to injury), the coach and the GM were approached with the concept that it can't be a coincidence that all of this has happened with Steve Staios as de facto captain.

"I don't want to get sentimental about him at this exact moment," laughed MacTavish of the veteran who took this young team into a corner of the rink at practice the morning after losing at home to Nashville March 4.

After the performance against the Predators - a 5-1 loss at home - virtually everybody had chosen that day to declare the Oilers as no longer having a snowball's hope in hell of making the playoffs.

While there was no team meeting in a corner of the Big Bear practice rink here yesterday morning, MacTavish and his de facto captain began working hard minutes after the loss in Minnesota the night before to put another one behind them and move on again.

But the coach admitted it ought to be obvious.

"Steve has given us everything that's needed by a coach to bring to a team from the role he's assumed. He's brought energy, optimism, realism and leadership by example.

"Your leaders have to reflect all the character the coach holds in high esteem and Steve has done that every day. He's sacrificed everything for the team. In this situation, he's been exactly what we've needed."

Reluctant, as well, to praise one person when it's been a group effort all the way, Lowe said Staios has been a study.

"It's been Steve who has really held this team together," testified the general manager.

For Staios, this has been nothing short of the greatest feeling he says he's ever experienced in his hockey career.

"It's been, personally, as satisfying as any group I've ever been part of," said the survivor of the core group of leaders, which include injured captain Ethan Moreau, de facto captain Shawn Horcoff from the start of the season and veteran Sheldon Souray.

"I was asked to step up. I'm doing the best I can. And I'm really happy. When I've had to address the team, their response has been not only a personally satisfying experience but a real learning experience.

"It's one thing to be a leader on a team, but when you have a young group like this, the big thing after a loss is to go right back out and execute the next game. It's not easy to do. We have to do it again (tonight).

"It's being in a situation where we've been counted out for a long time but a situation where we still have a chance. It's the same going into this next game. We still have a chance.

"That's why a day like today is great. Spirits are up. We're moving on. If you worry about what happened yesterday, it can wear you down," he said of the team at practice after losing 3-1 in Minnesota the night before.

"You have to understand the group to be able to lead it. It's mostly keeping guys loose and confident, keeping the pressure off them."

That's all that meeting in the corner after that Nashville loss at home was all about, he said.

"With a young group, the pressure can be a lot more difficult to deal with than an experienced group. I think in that Nashville game, our young guys really felt that pressure.

"We addressed our situation. It didn't look very good. But we kept things in this room. We kept things positive. We kept the energy up. We knew that we were in a difficult situation but it's just been a commitment to each other.

"The focus is getting into the playoffs, but there's no way to get there in one day or one game. It's all about building the team to play good hockey."

Having been the captain in Atlanta in the second year of the Thrashers existence "helped a lot" said Staios.

"I didn't understand that situation as well at the time," he admitted, finding himself an Oiler the following year.

Staios said he sees all the talent here and knows this is the beginning for a lot of them. And he's allowed himself to look down the road.

"I can only hope that after I'm long gone, long retired, some of these guys will look back at something I did or something I said and pass it down.

"I care a great deal about this organization. Definitely it would be a real honour to know that."


Videos

Photos