BUFFALO – Shortly before noon today, the Sabres hurriedly left the First Niagara Center ice following practice and walked to their dressing room. The metal door quickly closed after all the players had entered.
Inside, coach Ron Rolston began addressing his team’s vacant captaincy.
Cheers emanated from behind the door a few minutes later. More applause could be heard shortly after that.
In a surprising move, Rolston had named Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek co-captains.
“We just thought both guys represented what we wanted; nothing more, nothing less than that,” said Rolston, who also named Christian Ehrhoff an assistant captain. “It’s all about the influence they have on the team. Those guys are big influences on the team.”
Sharing the captaincy doesn’t bother either player.
“I think it’s good,” Vanek said. “Picking a captain’s so hard. You look at this room, there’s a lot of guys that got left out who deserve it just as much. But at the end of the day, each guy’s got to put their ego away and be happy for the team.”
In naming Ott and Vanek, Rolston picked two players with different personalities and backgrounds to lead. The loquacious Ott, who debuted here in January, constantly plays on the edge. The homegrown Vanek, one of the Sabres’ top talents since 2005, is more subdued.
Both, however, are accountable and respected.
“I think over the last so many years since I’ve started wearing an ‘A’ … I’ve tried to stay on the right line and lead and be an example for the team,” Ott said. “Obviously, I play a hard style to try to be competitive. For myself, this isn’t going to change anything, who I am. What’s gotten me in the NHL is my work ethic. That’s what’s going to keep me there, with a letter or without it.”
Vanek said the honor won’t change the way he plays.
“I’m not the most rah-rah guy, but I think when I got something to say, I’ve always said it, and that will continue,” he said.
Rolston selected two players whose contracts expire following the season.
“We wanted the best influence on our young players,” Rolston said. “Thomas has been a big influence on this organization for a long time. He knows how it ticks. He wants to have a great year and he also wants to be really good in camp helping the young guys, whether it’s on the bench or in the room.”
Rolston added: “We assume that (Vanek’s) going to be here. We want him to be here. He wants to be here. We want him to be captain for us.”
Ultimately, Vanek said, the captaincy won’t influence if he re-signs with the Sabres.
“It’s not about this,” Vanek said as he pointed to his letter. “It’s about our team.”