May 18, 2014
LONDON, Ont. — The voice in the room cannot be the same, always.
Curtis Lazar can readily relate to that as the Ottawa Senators first-rounder's season with the Edmonton Oil Kings builds to its culmination. As someone who projects to be a two-way forward at the NHL level, the voluble Vernon, B.C., native will probably be expected to furnish leadership in the dressing room. The 18-year-old centre will likely wear the C next season if he returns to junior — not just for the Oil Kings, but possibly also for Team Canada at the 2015 world junior championship. In the here and now, of course, the older Griffin Reinhart is captain in Edmonton. That has helped Lazar understand how a team's room needs to toggle between a primary leader and a secondary leader.
"Griffin's a guy who loves the big stages and the big games," Lazar said on Sunday, when the Oil Kings faced the host London Knights at the MasterCard Memorial Cup. "He does most of his leading by example. He’s not a big vocal guy but that’s where I feel I complement him and I can say something when it's needed. I like being that guy."
It takes all kinds. The two Oil Kings stars are different tintypes. Lazar sports an apparently perma-smile. With Reinhart, maybe it's his bristly playoff beard talking, but the burly blueliner has a 20-going-30 mien, choosing words efficient. That's helped Lazar appreciate the need for effective communication, especially when the Oil Kings felt gutted last weekend after the collapse against Portland on May 11 at Rexall Place that sent the WHL final to a Game 7.
The Oil Kings' path to becoming the first road team to ever win Game 7 of a WHL final started with a funereal ride to the airport before they shared a charter flight with the Winterhawks. (League personnel and media get the fun job of sitting in the middle seats on those communal flights.) Reinhart knew exactly what to say.
"I'll never forget it," says Lazar, who played with Reinhart on Canada's national junior team this season.on the way to the airport he stood up and said ‘relax guys.’ He flipped the switch. No point in dwelling on it. Portland was there in the airport with us. From that moment on we knew we were going to win Game 7."
For his part, Reinhart says he gleaned a lot from his former blueline mate Mark Pysyk, the captain of the 2012 WHL-winning Oil Kings who is now established in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres. He also points the Oil Kings, collectively, excel at making every player feel included, from the rookies through the overages.
"I never felt like I was separate from everybody else when I was a younger guy," the New York Islanders first-rounder says "We do a good job of that, we don’t separate our young guys from our old guys. We all do everything equally."
On many major junior teams, Lazar probably would be the unquestioned emotional leader. Two-year captains are fairly common in major junior. Matt Finn has filled the role for the tournament favourite Guelph Storm for the last two seasons. Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal credits the Vernon, B.C., native for being outgoing, but knowing when to respect the hierarchy in the dressing room.
"Curtis is not going to try and step over the older guys in our dressing room," Laxdal says. "He’s 18 and if he comes back at 19 [after attending Senators camp next season] I’m sure you’re going to see his leadership just flourish because of the respect factor."
He won't have to do it as concisely as Reinhart. To each his own. Besides, that bar is set very high.
"Griffin doesn’t say the most words but when he does speak you better listen because it’s something inspirational."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.