By Brian Compton
HAMILTON, N.J. — Doug McKay pulled off another surprise yesterday.
And, just like the other moves he’s made in recent weeks, it was hard to dispute this one, too.
The Titans’ head coach announced that Chris Thompson will be the team captain for the 2005-06 season. Thompson replaces Rick Kowalsky, who is now Mike Haviland’s assistant coach for Norfolk in the American Hockey League. It was speculated that Vince Williams would wear the “C” this year, but No. 2 will wear an “A,” along with Scott Bertoli and netminder Scott Stirling, which is a unique situation as goaltenders normally do not wear letters.
McKay said he spoke to “five or six players” for input and then made the decision himself.
“They could all wear the ‘C,'” McKay said after the Titans skated at Ice Land yesterday in preparation for tonight’s season opener against the Wheeling Nailers at Sovereign Bank Arena. “You can only have one captain. They all stand for the same things and they’re all leaders. I just felt (Thompson) leads by example. I really can’t separate Chris Thompson and Vince Williams, Scott Bertoli and Scott Stirling. I put them all in the same group. They put the team first. I’m counting on them heavily.”
For Thompson, being a captain is nothing new. He wore the “C” in his last year of junior hockey at Seattle and again last season with Louisiana. He said it will be a responsibility that he will not take lightly.
“I’ll work my (butt) off to lead this team,” said Thompson, who went 19-32-51 with 172 penalty minutes for the IceGators last season. “We’ve got a real good group. I don’t think it’ll be that hard to wear that ‘C.’ I’ll stick up for the boys and be there for them if they need anything. I like that role and I’ll honor that ‘C’ for sure. I’ve scratched and clawed to get to where I’m at.”
Thompson admitted he didn’t think he had much of a chance of being named captain with long-tenured players such as Williams and Bertoli in the mix. Thompson said he will certainly seek advice from both of them as the season gets underway and progresses.
“They’ve been here and they won a championship last year,” Thompson said. “I’ll be going to them just as much as they’ll be coming to me. Coach said if he could hand out four of five ‘C’s’, he would.”
Williams, who was the Titans’ captain in 2003-04, said he was not at all disappointed about Thompson getting the nod. Williams wore an “A” last season with Kowalsky in town.
“I’m not that type of person,” Williams said. “It won’t change my personality and it doesn’t change the way I play. It won’t change anything. I went through a similar thing with Kowalsky last year. Thompson is a great choice. It’s not the type of thing where I need it to tick. I don’t believe it’s three guys. It’s got to be 20. But, he’s the kind of guy people will embrace. He’ll go to war every night.”
Bertoli, who has been in New Jersey’s capital city much longer than anyone on the roster, also agreed with McKay’s decision to name Thompson captain, based on the winger’s style and intensity.
“I’ve got the ultimate respect for the guy,” Bertoli said. “I’ve played against him and he’s just a hard-working, gritty type of guy who you want on your side. He’s tough to play against. He’s played in this league and he knows the league. I think he’ll do a great job and he’s someone the younger guys can look up to.”