On November 18 the Atlanta Thrashers found themselves with a record of 7-9-3. They had just come off a very disappointing 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers the night before, had lost three straight and six of the last seven games played. Atlanta was also looking at upcoming games against such teams as the Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadians and Boston Bruins, among others.
Times were tough and the waters ahead looked rough. Needless to say, there was much grumbling, griping, wailing and gnashing of teeth going on throughout Thrasherville at that time.
But that morning, the Thrashers also named Andrew Ladd as their team captain.
The next night the Thrashers went out and beat the division leading Caps 5-0, beginning the current 11-2-2 run they are currently on. It’s a run that had landed them, even if for just one day, atop the Southeast Division following Saturday night’s 7-1 slap down of the New Jersey Devils.
Let’s see…the Thrashers made Ladd the captain then they go off on a month-long tear. So, is this all just coincidence?
“It might be a bit of a coincidence…I don’t think it was me getting the ‘C’”, Ladd told me prior to the games against the Devils. But he then added with a wry grin, “But I’ll take the credit if you want to give it to me”.
In all seriousness, Ladd is quick to point to the men behind the bench as the main reason this team is experienced what many fans are calling the best stretch of hockey Thrasherville has ever experienced.
“Everyone starting here was brand new to the systems, coaches and players, and it took a little time to get everyone on the same page. But right about that time [when he was named captain] it started to click and it’s really started to come together since”.
“They’ve been good [with the team]. We’ve got a young group of guys and still learning a lot of little things it takes to be successful in this league. Rammer’s a patient guy. He takes his time and makes sure everyone understands what their job is and what they need to do on the ice.”
“It’s definitely been working well this year”.
Ladd, the fourth overall pick in 2004 by the Carolina Hurricanes, began his NHL career after the lockout playing for a ‘Canes that won the Stanley Cup…a team captained by Ron Brind’Amour. When I asked if that type of leadership experienced then is something he can draw upon now, Ladd quickly replied, “Yeah, definitely. I think being so young your eyes are really wide open and you look to some of the older guys to see how they hold themselves and prepare to games.”
“I don’t think there is anyone who prepared for games better and worked as hard as Rod did, so he was a big influence on me and what I do now”.
In his short time as team captain here, Ladd has already gained a great deal of the same respect from his teammates. Winning certainly has a lot to do with it, of course. But one can’t help but get the feeling that the guys in the locker room honestly feel that the right man was tapped for the job.
“He’s just a great person to be around”, Anthony Stewart said of Ladd. “He’s blends in with any group of guys or any one guy and I think that speaks a lot to his character”.
Continuing, Stewey added, “He’s a great guy. I played World Juniors with him and we won the gold medal there for Canada. We hang out together away from the rink.”
“He’s a true captain”.
To Stewart’s point about hanging out with each other away from the arena, Ladd feels this kind of comradery has played a big role in what this team has accomplished of late. Whether it’s on the practice ice, in the locker room or when they head out on the road, this group of players enjoy spending time together…and that can’t help but add to the team’s on-ice success.
“Everyone’s positive and upbeat and wants everyone to do good”, Ladd responded when asked about this team’s chemistry. “Everyone’s pretty close, fairly close in age”.
Then with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek he joked, “OK, we got a couple of old guys”.
“But we have a pretty good group who gets along really well on and off the ice” the captain pointed out as he returned to his natural serious demeanor. “Anytime you have that it’s a positive thing. It translates off the ice, on the road, to the game on the ice”.
Ladd has also noticed the fans in Atlanta are starting to take notice of the team’s good play. And he understand that Ws in the standing are what’s helping in the renewed sense of optimism around Thrasherville.
“[The organization] has been talking about getting people into the building and what we can do for them. The biggest thing we can do is winning and bringing an exciting brand of hockey. I think we’ve done our part and it’s fun to see the fans respond and get excited about it”.
11-2-2…not tough to get excited about that at all.