After Adam Foote's retirement at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, the Colorado Avalanche was tasked with finding a new captain to lead the team in coming seasons. On Monday, the team announced that 35-year-old winger Milan Hejduk was to succeed Foote as captain of the Avalanche.
Hejduk, a Czech native, is just the third captain in Avalanche history since the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Avalanche. Hejduk is currently the longest-tenured player on the roster, now in his 13th season in Colorado. He's a home-grown product of the Avalanche system -- drafted by Quebec in 1994, he joined the Avalanche in 1998 after the move to Colorado. Just a few years later, he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2001. Hejduk is second on the team in scoring this season with 13 points in 18 games.
Hejduk is not the most vocal guy in the locker room, but Avs coach Joe Sacco chose him because he leads by example and mentors the younger players. "He's not going to be the most vocal guy, he's not going to be yelling and screaming -- that's not his identity as a person. But he does lead by example on and off the ice by the way he conducts himself, the way he handles himself, his preparation for both practices and games," Sacco said. "He's what we want our younger players to be."
Even though being a vocal captain is not the soft-spoken Hejduk's style, he said he will speak up if a situation in the locker room requires it. "(Foote) did a great job, but he was more vocal than I am or Joe (Sakic) was. When something needed to be said, he said it," Hejduk recalled. "If something needs to be said, I will say it, definitely. No question about that."
However, according to teammate and alternate captain Paul Stastny, Hejduk's quiet personality makes his opinion all the more powerful. "To me, it was a good decision. He's quiet, but around the guys he opens up. He's not the most vocal guy, but when he does say something, people listen," said Stastny, Hejduk's teammate for six years.
But why did it take Sacco 17 games into the season to choose a captain? Sacco apparently wanted to see who would emerge as a leader early in the 2011-12 season. But it seems he had made his decision some time ago and was just waiting for the perfect moment to make the official announcement. "There was a process in place, and it had to play itself out and it did. I didn't have a certain date in mind; it was just when we felt it was the right time," Sacco said.
Hejduk, who has served as an alternate captain for the past three seasons, considers the "C" on his jersey to be a big honor. "From my rookie season here in Colorado, I have always felt a great sense of pride wearing this sweater and being a part of this organization. I am looking forward to this added responsibility," Hejduk said. "I've been in the league for a long time and this is really cool."
Sacco just hopes that Hejduk won't feel pressure to change anything about himself now that he's been named captain. "I want him to be the person that he is," Sacco said. "He doesn't have to change who he is at all, and (should) just lead by example."Photo credit: Getty Images