A new generation of leadership

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Last season was a major step forward for the men’s hockey team, but the team faces an identity crisis now that its core group of leaders has moved on. Who will the next wave of captains be? Evan Boudreau investigates

It’s a preseason practice a few weeks before the start of the season and head coach Graham Wise calls his charges over to the whiteboard for a team talk.

As Wise scribbles his X’s and O’s, some players stare into the distance, their attention only partially held by the marker tip.

Not Marcus Booth: on his knees in a half-eagle spread, his gaze is fixed forward, absorbing every word coming from the coach’s mouth.

The “blonde boomer”, as his coach and teammates fondly refer to him as, is always front-and-centre. His presence on and off the ice puts him in prime position to assume a great honour this year: the captaincy.

“I definitely hope I’m a contender [for captain]…and that I score 600 goals,” said Booth after practice, with mismatched socks and a goofy grin on his face. His focus on the ice and happy-go-lucky demeanour off it endears teammates to him.

But the captaincy is much more than embroidery: it is the heartbeat of a team under tremendous pressure to build upon the foundation of success that has been laid these past few years. And the core group of players that led them to previously unimaginable heights — four-time MVP captain Kevin Krasnowski and assistants Kevin Day and Stewart D’Eall — have all graduated.

Unless the team’s leadership conundrum is resolved by a new wave of go-to guys, a major setback in the standings is all but guaranteed.

Last season the team skated to a 12-13-3 record — its best in 20 years — and swept rival University of Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.

Before Wise’s arrival in 2006, the team was just a part-time coach, an assortment of individuals, and two-win seasons.

Krasnowski was the team’s engine: vocal in the locker room, respected around campus, and a high-scoring playmaker on the ice. Now Wise must select a replacement to fill his skates.

“We’ve got a lot of good guys, quality kids and that makes it hard,” said Wise. “It’s an important decision.”

Booth captained his junior team before coming to Ryerson and also earned the Blue ‘R’ Award during the 2008-2009 season for his commitment to the athletic community. But he isn’t the only one in the mix.

An hour before practice, before the arena lights have even warmed up, second-year winger Matt Schmermund is already working on the ice. He’s too busy threading pucks through makeshift pylons to bother changing into uniform.

Teammates frequently mention him for the captaincy, but he’s quick to deflect praise onto Booth.

“Booth, he’s just a really vocal guy in the dressing room,” said Schmermund. “If the guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to, he keeps them in line.”

Brent Small is another player getting the coach’s consideration. Wise has even guaranteed that both he and Booth will get a letter. The third-year sniper insists it won’t change him one bit.

“Being a captain isn’t a reward, it’s a responsibility,” he said. Back on the ice, the team sets up for a drill. Booth scurries to his skates and calls out to his teammates.

“Don’t forget the passes!” he cries. Letter or no letter, that’s just what he does — and the other guys take notice.

Photo: Evan Boudreau

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