PENTICTON, B.C. – The names read like a who’s who of hockey: Gretzky, Lemieux, Sakic, Niedermayer. In addition to being among the game’s all-time greats, they’ve all shared one honour – wearing the ‘C’ as captain of Team Canada.
Now, two new names can be added to the list – Clarke Breitkreuz and Nick Huard.
Breitkreuz and Huard will lead Canada West and Canada East, respectively, as they chase gold at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge in Penticton, B.C.
“I was speechless,” says Huard of finding out he was going to be his team’s leader. “I thought of all the guys who have been Team Canada captains at the World Juniors and the Olympics; this isn’t as high, but for our level, being a leader, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
One reason Huard may have been without words was the way the Canada East coaching staff decided to tell him he would be captain.
Called into the coaches room about an hour before his team’s opening exhibition game against Canada West, Huard was the victim of a prank – an initiation into the world of Team Canada captains, if you will.
“The coaches started talking to about not being a leader, about not doing what they thought I should be doing,” Huard says. “I started to walk back into the dressing room and Coach (Todd) Gill called me back and told me I forgot something. When I turned around he had my jersey with the letter on it.
“It took me a while to actually put the jersey on; I just kept staring at the ‘C’.”
Both players have been through the grind of the World Junior A Challenge before. Breitkreuz was a member of the Canada West entry that settled for silver one year ago in Summerside, P.E.I. – although a shoulder injury ended his tournament early in the gold medal game – while Huard was part of Team Canada East’s fourth-place finish last year.
They say missing out on the top prize is more than enough motivation for this year.
“You never win silver,” Breitkreuz says. “It’s never fun to get to that point and not finish the job, so we know what we need to do. Whatever I can do to help the guys get ready, let them know a little about what to expect, I’m willing to do.”
While Breitkreuz has a little more support around him as far as returning players go – the Springside, Sask. native is one of seven westerners back from Summerside – Huard and goaltender Jordan Ruby are the only second-timers in the East dressing room.
The lack of eastern experience meant someone had to step up, something Huard did from the moment he walked in to evaluation camp in Whitby, Ont. in early October. Now that’s he’s got the ‘C’, Huard says that leadership mentality won’t change.
“I’m just trying to keep the same game plan I came into the tournament with, to try and be a leader,” he says. “I’m a second-year guy on the team, so I try and help the guys out, tell them what goes on, how teams are, how the day goes.”
For both, wearing the ‘C’ is something they’ll forever cherish, but neither will be happy until a gold medal is around their neck on November 14.
“It’s what we’re here for,” Breitkreuz says. “It’s a huge honour that I’m captain, and it’s tough to put into words what that means, but all of us in the room have one goal, and that’s to win gold.”