How do you captain a team of captains? How do you lead a team of leaders?
If you’re Scott Niedermayer, captain of Canada’s Men’s Olympic Team, keeping it simple is rule No. 1.
“I don’t think I do it a lot different than those guys do on their teams,” Niedermayer says. “There are a few official responsibilities to take care of, but we’re all out there competing, trying to set a good example for our teammates and trying to be supportive of our teammates. Those are important things you do as a leader on any team, so I don’t think it changes a lot.”
Niedermayer, captain of the Anaheim Ducks, is one of nine members of Team Canada that wears the ‘C’ with their NHL teams, along with Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Jarome Iginla (Calgary) Roberto Luongo (Vancouver), Brenden Morrow (Dallas), Rick Nash (Columbus), Mike Richards (Philadelphia), Eric Staal (Carolina) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago).
He says he tries to stay away from re-inventing the wheel in a dressing room full of leaders.
“You’re not going to do something different or create something new that’s never been done before,” Niedermayer says. “Just go out there and do what’s been done in the past and do what’s worked for you. Obviously when you get into different situations, that’s when how you react and how you respond becomes important.”
In his eighth appearance with the maple leaf on his chest – his first as captain – Niedermayer admits this one may be the most special, as the 2010 Olympics are being held in his home province; he grew up in Cranbrook, about 850 kilometres from Vancouver, and played his junior hockey in Kamloops, a four-hour drive.
Niedermayer remains a legend in the interior of British Columbia for leading the Kamloops Blazers to the first Memorial Cup championship in franchise history in 1991-92, his final season in the Western Hockey League.
“We’re here to focus and do a job, so it’s not all fun and games,” Niedermayer says of his second Olympic experience (he won gold in 2002), “but at the same time you do try and take a few minutes here and there to soak it up and enjoy it, because it definitely doesn’t come around all the time.”
With the city a sea of red and white Team Canada jerseys since the Games opened a little more than a week ago, the pressure has been on the men’s team to cap off the Olympics with Canada’s second gold medal in three tries.
In a country where hockey is part of everyday life, nothing but gold will suffice and Niedermayer says the Canadian team has discussed living up to the expectations of a country.
“We talked about it in the summer, and we talked about it when we got here – there are going to be moments that really test you,” he says. “Accomplishing something this worthwhile is never easy; it’s never given to you. There are other teams that are hungry for it as well, and they’re going to test you. You’re going to get tested, and how you respond to that is the most important thing.”
The biggest test is still to come – a qualification round date with Germany on Tuesday, and a potential quarter-final against Russia 24 hours later, a match-up many had pegged for the gold medal game on February 28.
How will Canada respond? Stay tuned.