What does it take to be an NHL captain?
2019 NHL ORIGINAL SIX: TEAM LEADERS – PURE SILVER SIX-COIN SET
As captain of any National Hockey League® team, you’re expected to lead by example both on and off the ice. But if you’re the captain of an Original Six™ team — the oldest and most iconic franchises in the league — you’re likely under even greater pressure to exemplify the very best in teamwork, leadership and integrity. In its 2019 pure silver six-coin set, the Royal Canadian Mint pays tribute to some legendary Canadian-born players who have filled that high-profile position.
Working closely with the Hockey Hall of Fame®, Mint Product Manager Matt Eggink selected the six players to be featured in this set: Doug Gilmour (Toronto Maple Leafs®), Yvan Cournoyer (Montreal Canadiens®), Mark Messier (New York Rangers®), Ray Bourque (Boston Bruins®), Denis Savard (Chicago Blackhawks®) and Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings®).
Eggink chose these six for their iconic place in Canadian hockey: captains of their respective teams and all-time greats inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Although Cournoyer had retired by the time I started watching hockey, I knew so much about his legendary career from the stories I read. But the rest of these players were huge stars when I was a young fan,” Eggink recalls. “When I saw Mark Messier play in person, he was larger than life. And growing up in the Toronto area, I vividly remember watching Doug Gilmour play on a regular basis — and often bringing me out of my seat!”
Of course, it takes more than exciting plays to captain a team with a long and storied history. So what is that X-factor, exactly? We spoke to Yvan Cournoyer and Denis Savard to find out.
YVAN COURNOYER: LEARNING FROM LEGENDS
Known for his slapshot and explosive speed, Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer blew past the top defencemen of the 1960s and 1970s on his way to becoming a 10-time Stanley Cup® champion with the Montreal Canadiens.
When he joined the Canadiens in the 1963-64 season, he had the fortune of sharing a locker room with some of the greatest players in NHL history, including Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard. Cournoyer learned so much sitting beside those two leaders that when Richard retired in 1975, he was more than ready to take his place as captain.
“In those days, the captain was named by the players,” he says. “So it was something very special, to the have the players believe in you to lead the team to success. It made you appreciate it. It also made you work hard to do the right things.”
And do the right things he did. Under Cournoyer’s leadership, the Canadiens won four straight championships from 1976 to 1979, the final year of his career.
One of the main lessons he took from Beliveau was that being captain doesn’t stop at the end of the season — it’s a year-round commitment. That’s why when he was first named captain, Cournoyer brought all his teammates together to let them know they could come to him with any problems: summer or winter, with their families or with the coaching staff.
“Hockey’s a very short season, so you have to solve your problems right away,” he says. “If you wait too long, those problems just get bigger and they stop you from focusing on hockey and trying to win the Stanley Cup.”
Today, Cournoyer sits sixth on the Canadiens’ all-time scoring list. But when he looks back on how it all started — when he received his first pair of skates from his grandfather at age seven — he never would have expected to see himself on a coin by the Mint.
“It is such a fantastic honour to be on this coin, representing the team I played for my entire career,” says Cournoyer. “I gave one to all my friends and their reactions were unbelievable.”
DENIS SAVARD: FAMILY TIES
With the third-most points in Chicago Blackhawks history, Denis Savard electrified fans with his speed, offensive flair and innovative “spin-o-rama” move. Yet despite the accolades, he can’t believe he’s sharing a set coins with players like Cournoyer.
“To be on the same level as those guys, it makes me wonder what I did right,” he jokes. “I always reflect back on the support I received from my parents. They’re the main reason I got to the NHL. It’s my face and my name on this coin, but it all goes back to my family.”
Although he grew up on the outdoor rinks of Montreal, his family also gave him an early connection to the Blackhawks and one of its greatest stars, Stan Mikita. In the late 1970s, Savard’s cousin was drafted by Chicago. When the team came to Montreal, Savard’s uncle invited them to his restaurant — where a teenaged Denis worked as a busboy.
“Stan was always one of my favourites,” he says. “It’s remarkable to think I would be clearing his table — and then later play in the same city and become his friend.”
Mikita retired just before Savard arrived in Chicago, but the Blackhawks legend would make frequent appearances at team practices. The way Mikita handled himself made a huge impression on Savard, who became captain in 1988.
For the soft-spoken Savard, wearing the “C” was about leading by example. If the captain commits to the coach’s gameplan, it ripples throughout the lineup, inspiring everybody on the team to bring their best.
While Savard wouldn’t win it all with the Blackhawks, he finally got his name on the Stanley Cup in 1993 with the Canadiens. He wasn’t the captain, but his experience in Chicago proved invaluable in bringing the team together.
“After we won the semi-finals, we had a full week off,” he says. “The key for us was to keep focus. So I got everybody together at my house, including our families, to talk about how important the next two weeks would be for the rest of our lives. The Stanley Cup is what you dream of us a kid. Fortunately, it worked out for us.”
That was the last time a team from Canada won the Stanley Cup. But with all the young talent found on teams across the country, Savard expects the drought to end soon.
“Hockey is still our game,” he says. “And that will never change.”
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