Captains are an age-old tradition in the world of sports and ice hockey is no different, but the Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning have yet to announce their official leadership group thus far.
Almost a month into the 2018/19 Elite League season, the team is currently operating without any named captain or alternate captains this season.
However, there certainly appear to be players that could fill leadership roles if head coach Doug McKay feels it’s necessary.
Tim Wallace is a 34-year-old American forward that has a wealth of experience at all levels of the game, including a respectable 101 games played at the very highest level – the National Hockey League.
Wallace had spells with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes between 2008 and 2013.
His experience at this level would undoubtedly give him a slight edge in any potential captaincy debates, but there are many more indicators that Wallace might well be fulfilling the role – albeit unofficially.
Before Coach McKay’s arrival in the country, Wallace was placed in charge of the team’s on-ice training along with the help of Michael Fine and Eric Neiley.
Wallace has also been seen speaking regularly with McKay during games, going over the coach’s tactics board.
Add to that the way that players spoke about Wallace’s leadership and taking charge during the Q&A section of the Meet The Players evening, there are some strong indicators that the veteran winger is the team’s captain, though no official announcement has been made.
Ryan Lannon is another guy that could be seen as ideal in a leadership role for the Lightning, with the 35-year-old defenceman having a wealth of experience both as a player and as a coach.
Lannon has 318 AHL games under his belt and has played for KalPa in the Finnish Liiga and Graz 99ers in the then-top league in Austria.
He is the oldest player on the team and his coaching experience gives him a well-rounded view of the game, something that younger player can look to learn from.
He might not be seen as the team’s main leader, with Wallace emerging in that role, but he could certainly be viewed as the leader of the defence and a solid first alternate captain.
Another player that could be in the conversation as an alternate captain for the Lightning is British defenceman James Griffin.
Griffin is the longest serving player on the team, having joined from the Coventry Blaze in the 2015/16 season, and has 243 Elite League games under his belt at the age of 25.
Prior to Coach McKay’s arrival, when players were responsible for all aspects of training, Griffin was in charge of the team’s off-ice/fitness training.
Couple that with the fact that Griffin was tasked with welcoming the new players and ensuring they all settled in their new environment, there are clear signs that McKay views Griffin as a possible leader on this team.
He is a solid stay-at-home defenceman and his absence has been missed in recent games, highlighting his importance to the team.
Having a home-grown player given the ‘A’ would also be a logical move, particularly with Griffin himself being the most familiar with the team and its fan base.
In hockey, teams typically name a captain (indicated by the ‘C’ on their jersey) and can name up to three alternate (‘A’) captains.
Teams can, however, name a set of up to four alternates if they wish to operate a captain-by-committee role.
In this scenario, it is presumed that Wallace is given the ‘C’ and the team would operate with three alternate captains – though it is common to have just two.
Michael Fine would likely be the third alternate captain if this is the route that McKay decided to go down.
The 27-year-old Canadian, as previously mentioned, was part of the group that led the Lightning’s on-ice training prior to the coach’s arrival.
Fine is also no stranger to being given captaincy responsibilities – having worn the ‘C’ for the Ryerson Rams for three years, sporting an ‘A’ for a year prior to being promoted.
He is less vocal and tends to focus on his work on the ice, but his experience in a leadership role should not be understated and could certainly see him given a look if official captains a named later on this season.
The role of a captain in hockey has become a hot topic of debate in recent years, with many teams at the highest level not naming full-time captains given the diminished role they play in the modern game.
But the tradition of having a captain is one that players respect and the honour of wearing a letter on their jersey is something most players would cherish and something that truly indicates who the leaders of a team are.
As for the Lightning, there is currently no indication that a captain will be named in the near future with the players and Coach McKay firmly focused on what happens on the ice more than what happens off it.
The Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning return to the ice this Saturday (29th September) in their Elite League fixture away to the Manchester Storm, followed by a league tilt against the Dundee Stars at Planet Ice MK Arena on Sunday 30th.