The quote below is from a player, whose leadership has been exemplary since becoming a Montreal Canadien.
"The goal here every year is to win the Stanley Cup. When you play in Montreal, the fans expect to win and everyone player on this team should expect to win the Stanley Cup every year! Don't even bother to come out if you do not feel you can win the Cup!"
Those words of course, are from Chris Higgins, who coach Guy Carbonneau has named as an assistant captain for the 2007-08 season. They were spoken in an interview with McKeen's Hockey, a little over one year ago.
Oddly, Higgins words sound much more reassuring to me than what captain Koivu was misquoted as saying over the summer in regards to the Habs chances - but that's another matter best left in an article about media.
Higgins is a wise choice for the Canadiens assistant captaincy, annointing a player whom many foresee as a future team captain. It is smart as it also gives the team's youth core a strong and resillliant voice among veterans.
As a player who has graduated every level of the game quickly, Higgins is a well rounded player and grounded between the ears. Leadership has always been his calling card.
"Every time I have moved up in hockey there has not been much of an adjustment period" admits the Smithtown, NwYork native.
"I feel that I adapt well to the next level and playing a solid two way game helps me in that regard. I don't rely just on scoring or just on defence. I try to be versatile and I think that helps make the transition easier".
The choice of Higgins as assistant could also have to do with how badly he seems to want to be a leader, without ever coming directly out and saying so.
"I want to be a dynamic player, one who makes big plays" states a confident Higgins. "However I don't think my role changed that much with the team's transactions ( in 2005-06 ), the team still looks to me to play an all around solid game and being on the top line will require me to produce more offensively. I worked hard in the off season and hope I can meet the expectations of this team".
Some might feel that being tagged with an "A" on the jersey is a simple, unmeaningful nod given to appease egotistical veterans looking for stature on a team. Often it can be, and there are examples of it within the Habs own organization for years.
However, when a youngster such as Higgins is branded with a letter, the move takes on several deeper interpretations.
In this case, the Canadiens brass is suggesting Higgins as an example that should be followed. He is but a fourth year player, but yet thinks and speaks with a veteran's tone.
Higgins, despite his age, is prototypical Montreal Canadien in spirit. It could have much to do with his upbringing, having grown up in a New York state Habs household.
"My dad was a fanatical Canadiens fan", he has said, "he can tell you all the rosters and leading scorers going back to the seventies".
Watching Higgins develop, I have seen flashbacks of many great Habs in the game he brings. None of these images remind me of one particular player, but rather a composite of several who wore the CH on their hearts. It is as if someone created him by placing the conjured souls of Habs warriors the likes of Skrudland, McPhee, Lemieux, Carbonneau, Larose, Backstrom, and current Habs captain Koivu into a type of spiritual blender, to be mixed and mushed into a complete whole.
Though Higgins is not a Quebecois, nor is he a Canadian, he is about as born and bred 100% Habitants as a non resident can be.
In pride, he does remind me some of Henri Richard, a player who did a great many things for a team, while not neccessarily defining greatness in any single aspect.
Over the course of the past season, Higgins battled through two major injuries. At the onset of 2006-07, he jetted out of the gate scoring 8 goals and 5 assists in his first thirteen games. He tallied key markers in all facets of the game - even strength, shorthanded, and on the powerplay. Estimations of his projected season totals were running wild when injuries hit.
He missed a prime chunk of the season with a leg injury, and the Habs eagerly awaited his return as his loss left a hole in the lineup that was spiritually difficult to fill. When Higgins returned, it would be to a team he likely didn't recognize as the one he'd last played with in mid November.
The Canadiens were enduring a tailspin brought on by several external happenings and his leadership was desperately craved.
Higgins notched a pair of goals in his return, but after a week of play seemed hesitant and very much unlike his usual self. On less visible nights, he was questioned about his being out of sync due to his previous injury.
The player let it be known that it was not the case, stating loud and clear for all to hear that the injury had been properly rehabed and completely healed. He blamed his hesitance on issues dealing with his own play.
Taking the easy way out, was not an excuse.
During the summer of 2007, it was revealed that what was bothering Higgins was in fact a shoulder injury suffered during the stretch drive. Still, he tallied 14 goals after returning from the initial injury.
As the Habs playoff chances were slipping, Higgins did not want to be on the outside looking in. Despite the fact that his contract was up for renewal as a RFA, he battled while hurt for the benefit of the team.
Perhaps playing alongside the aforementioned Koivu taught him lessons in playing with pain, through perseverance.
Higgins did not not regain the top line status he enjoyed earlier in the season, but still set his sights on helping the team.
"Saku has a great ability to make everyone feel welcome and be a valuable contributor to this hockey club no matter what your role" says Higgins.
"On the ice he is always teaching, giving us little tips on where he wants us to be and where to be on the ice when he has the puck, it makes a big difference because chemistry goes a long way".
This statement from Higgins is from the same McKeen piece, prior to what he endured during the past season.
One can assume he has been placed in a leadership role, for as much as what he has understood before living through it.
Even in hindsight, the leaders perspective has been in place between his ears long before last season's trials.
His approach to how he plays the game, makes him a valuable commodity in any role, no matter what injuries enabled him to offer in the past. His leadership lends to him thinking alongside with a coaches point od view.
"Coach Carbonneau understands that a great deal of this game is mental".
"Positioning and discipline go a long way in his eyes, he had skills but was not a dynamic scorer (when Carbonneau played), however there is a reason he was successful because he understood the game and had tremendous hockey sense", related Higgins.
Higgins could not have known that Carbonneau was an offensive dynamo in junior, who tailored his game upon being assigned a role by the Canadiens in the early 1980's.
"He is trying to translate that to us, he understands that players have different skill sets but there is a basic understanding of the game and he is trying to teach that to us".
For demonstrating a willingness to comply to team goals, and the selflessness that often goes along with achieving them, Higgins is an ideal bridge between management and players. GM Gainey and coach Carbonneau have obviously placed value in his views and work ethic.
His dedication to team pursuits has been recognized by the team in naming him an assisstant captain.
As many have often remarked, I see the Canadiens grooming a future team captain.
And his initials are CH!