"Surprise!" . . . That's how Blue Jackets' VP of Communications Todd Sharrock opened Wednesday's press conference at Nationwide Arena, called for the purpose of introducing the sixth captain in franchise history. Now, one school of thought had Sharrock simply referring to the fact that Nick Foligno was seated at the head table with a "C" on his sweater, and was the overwhelming favorite to get the "C" heading into the presser. The more cynical -- but infinitely more entertaining -- view was that the remark was a subtle dig at the Dispatch's Aaron Portzline, who let the proverbial cat out of the bag yesterday via Twitter and the Dispatch blog that Foligno was the choice. Whichever view you adopt, it set the appropriate light-hearted tone for the event, which was one of those relatively rare press conferences where nothing but positive news prevailed.
GM Jarmo Kekäläinen continued the frivolous mood, beginning his remarks with "Did somebody say "finally"?" However, then it was down to business, and Jarmo made it clear that Foligno had become the sole figure to emerge from the room, and had done so in all of the correct ways:
He plays the right way, produces points, sticks up for his teammates, competes, plays with a big heart. He's got the ability to say the right things -- and knows when not to say anything.
That latter part -- about knowing what to say and when to say nothing -- was part of a recurring theme throughout the press conference, emphasizing the discretion a captain must exercise, and the wide range of skills necessary to effectively do the job.
Richards -- who looked exhausted after his bronze medal run in the World Championships in Prague -- had some insightful thoughts on both Foligno and the role:
For me, it's the evolution of our team and our organization going forward. Nick, to me, this season took some steps forward as a leader of our group. Now is the right time. A big reason is how Nick has matured as a player and as a leader. . . . When you become captain of a team, a lot of times it;s not about you -- its always about the group. Your circle gets a lot bigger, and now you're taking personal interest in all [of the] guys in the locker room. It's having a personal sense of pride in how we do things.
Neither Jarmo, Richards nor Foligno could finger any specific event or point in time that was the defining moment in his emergence. Kekäläinen noted that he had a checklist, and that "the check marks just kept coming." Richards noted that it was "a lot of those little things that start to add up." Foligno himself put it thusly:
I feel like it has come naturally, which is what I am most proud of . I never felt I was forced into it or was trying to be something I'm not. I think I just continued to try to be a good teammate, good person, good player.
Another theme that was referenced several times -- by both Foligno and Richards -- was the importance of family, and the impact that being a parent has on developing some of the subtle interpersonal skills that are vital when dealing with disparate personalities. It was clear that Foligno particularly found strong guidance in his parenting role, particularly considering the health challenges the family faced with their daughter.
Foligno refused to bite at several attempts to get him to quantify things that he might want to change in the room or the organization, once again exhibiting that deftness is deflecting issues without aggression. Foligno observed:
It's not my place to change anything. It's to just try and help move forward. . . .To me a captain is a guy who has the pulse of the room, understands what's needed, at what time, and how to get the most out of each player.
When it was noted that Foligno had not displayed an "edgy" side that might be necessary for a captain, Foligno smiled and noted that "it occurs behind closed doors." Message received. Jarmo also noted that he did not break the news to the club, but had "the captain" carry that message. Jarmo also clarified that the "A"'s would be distributed in and after training camp.
An interesting interchange arose when Foligno was asked who had been inspirations in terms of leadership. Not surprisingly, he mentioned Daniel Alfredsson from his time in Ottawa, but also mentioned Adrian Aucoin and Derek MacKenzie from his time with the Blue Jackets. Two names that make sense, upon further reflection, but were surprising in how quickly he mentioned them. (This likely heartened those who believe all of the Blue Jackets' ills are attributable to letting MacKenzie get away). In terms of past Columbus captains, Foligno first mentioned Adam Foote, which resulted in some almost audible catches in the collective throats of those attending. However, following that with the obligatory Rick Nash reference, it was clear he was merely invoking guys with solid playing reputations. Keep in mind that Foligno never skated in a Blue Jackets sweater with either guy.
Foligno was clearly honored and humbled by being named the Blue Jackets' sixth captain. As part of a hockey family of considerable note, he summarized his feelings as follows:
Obviously, my dad and my brother were very happy for me. My dad's actually been a captain in the league, so it's pretty cool to be able to share that with him. . . . It's a big honor to be considered as a captain by your organization, but I think it means nothing if your teammates don't believe in it. I really feel that they do, and that makes me feel really good about the situation, and makes me want to work that much harder to show them.
Finally, Foligno was asked if he had any idea -- three years ago when he got the call that he was traded to Columbus -- that he would be sitting there as the organizations sixth captain, Foligno smiled, shook his head, and said:
Thank God I came to Columbus. It's been an unbelievable place to live, to raise a family and to play. I wanted to be a guy that was part of bringing respect and credibility back to the organization. It's been so much fun to be a part of it.
On a wild news day in the NHL (Mike Babcock to Toronto, Don Sweeney to Boston, Martin Brodeur to St. Louis), this was a breath of fresh air. What was clear at the end of it all was just how comfortable and confident the organization was that they had the right guy for the job, and just how comfortable Nick Foligno was in assuming the role. Make no mistake -- while he is humble and honored, he also has no qualms about stepping up and being a leader. He's done it time and time again -- on the ice, at the All Star game, with his family, and with his teammates. Foligno brings that necessary blend of skill, maturity, energy and diplomacy, and is really the first Blue Jackets captain to emerge and grasp the role -- not have it thrust upon them. It's a harbinger of good things to come, and we couldn't agree more. Thank God Nick Foligno came to Columbus. Stay tuned.