Players know the 'C' must be earned


Mike Komisarek understands the importance of the letter.


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Mike Komisarek understands the importance of the letter.

The C stands for captaincy. But it represents character. And it symbolizes the respect of one's peers.

It is the letter that Hap Day wore as the first captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is the letter that George Armstrong wore as the captain of four Stanley Cup-winning teams. And it is the letter that the now-retired Mats Sundin wore when he became the franchise's all-time scoring leader.

More importantly, it is a letter that has to be earned--not given.

"I think leaders sort of rise up and evolve," said Komisarek, one of three players who could become the next Leafs captain. "You have to earn the trust and respect of your teammates. It's not something that you plaster on someone with no meaning just to have a captain."

For the second straight year, the Leafs will begin the season without a captain. But that could soon change.

Head coach Ron Wilson named Tomas Kaberle and newcomers Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin as alternate captains yesterday. The hope is that one of the three defence-men will emerge as the team's leader by the end of the month.

"I think, of those three candidates, they're all worthy," Wilson said. "They all have different personalities and we'll choose from one of those three, more than likely."

Though none of the three candidates have ever been a captain, all three possess leadership qualities.

Komisarek has built a reputation as a hard-nosed defenceman who stands up for his teammates. Beauchemin is the only Toronto player to have hoisted the Stanley Cup. And the offensively-skilled Kaberle is the longest-serving Leaf.

"There's a lot of leaders," Kaberle said. "It's not like we need a captain. But at a certain point we'll need one and I'm sure we'll get one."

Last year, Toronto had five players --Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Jamal Mayers and Dominic Moore-- rotate as alternate captains.

It was done purely out of necessity. According to Wilson the Leafs lacked leadership. But that is no longer a problem. "The people that we brought in all have good leadership qualities, all the way to Colton Orr," Wilson said. "The leadership that we're talking about is work ethic, not only at the rink but off the ice as well. I think that's huge."

Of the 13 players that wore the C, six have had their names and numbers raised to the Air Canada Centre rafters. And on a day when Sundin was memorialized in Toronto after announcing his retirement, everyone was well aware of the letter's importance.

"I think when you play for a storied franchise like the Toronto Maple Leafs," said Komisarek, "that has such a rich history with two retired numbers, 1,500 players, 13 Stanley Cups, you don't just sort of throw around that C on anyone."

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