At the collegiate hockey level, it’s difficult to find a team captain who excels in all aspects of being a leader.
Some lead by example; first to practice, last off the ice, hardest worker, most willing to sacrifice the body.
Some lead by skill: great speed, quick hands, hard shot, baffling moves.
Some lead through emotion: unloading a big hit, vocally challenging teammates on the ice and in the locker room.
That’s why the better teams not only have the captain but a group of players who can provide leadership in one or more ways, who can demand much of themselves while demanding as much from teammates. There are players who can lead quietly and those who can provide constructive confrontation, those who lead the way and those who have your back.
Even with those qualities, until the leaders accept those roles and the remainder understand their roles, a team can struggle no matter what the level of talent. While coaches provide one kind of leadership, few teams excel until the players take responsibility for their own actions and demand accountability from their teammates.
There’s nothing new in this. Middlebury College coach Bill Beaney has been asserting for over two decades that his teams never reach their potential until, in his words, “they make it their team.” Not the coach’s team; not the fans’ team; not the school’s team; their team.
So it is at the University of Vermont this winter.
“I’ve always said accountability and responsibility are the number one things I can teach young men. When it’s all said and done, if they can look at themselves in the mirror, know they did everything possible, hold themselves accountable but also hold each other accountable, that equals ownership. It becomes their team,” said UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon this week.
“Right now, we don’t have that yet. I think we’ll get there; I know we’ll get there. A lot of that has to do with the leadership, guys feeling comfortable with positive confrontation, feeling comfortable with holding guys accountable. That maybe hasn’t been our strong point to date, but I’m hopeful they’re learning what it takes. I think the character is there for them to be great leaders. It’s a matter of much like everything, putting it all together.”
As a leader by example, captain Brian Roloff is superb, but he might not be comfortable with confrontation. Assistant captain Patrick Cullity is an emotional leader, though his emotions sometimes get the better of him on the ice. Assistant captain Kevan Miller might have the best blend, but he’s a junior still adjusting to his responsibilities.
Those from the Martin St. Louis/Jaime Sifers mold are rare, but they will tell you, for all their leadership qualities, they didn’t do it alone. Neither can Roloff, Cullity and Miller, though they are where leadership begins with these Catamounts. How quickly everyone adjusts to the team’s new leadership may determine how quickly the Catamounts start reaching their potential.