by Doug Plagens || AHL On The Beat Archive
Winning, leadership, and character were all topics that arose during conversations with and about Lake Erie Monsters captain Bryan Lerg, and each for more reasons than one.
First, Lerg has a successful track record of team and individual success; being a part of Michigan State’s 2007 NCAA championship squad is just one of his career highlights.
“You win at any level… it’s a big deal to me, and it’s a big deal to our organization,” said Monsters head coach Dean Chynoweth. “Those are the people you want; you want winners around you.”
Then there’s the fact that his leadership runs deeper than the ‘C’ on his Monsters jersey. When Colorado Avalanche director of AHL operations David Oliver says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” the reference is to Lerg’s father Dan, who played at the University of Michigan from 1976 to 1980 and captained the team during his time with the Wolverines.
“He just has the attributes that make him that guy; when he stands up and says something, people listen,” Oliver said. “More importantly than that, when he’s on the ice, he leads by example. He does what the coaches ask, and he’s a fierce competitor.
“Ball all those things together, and you’ve got one heck of a leader. That’s what Bryan Lerg is for the Lake Erie Monsters.”
Lerg’s character and work ethic stretch beyond the fact that the Monsters enter play Thursday with points in four straight games. The Monsters captain paces the team in goals with eight and is tied for the team lead in points with 13. Chynoweth says he’s pleased with Lerg’s play this season: “He has been consistent, and plays in all situations from five-on-five to power play to the penalty kill.”
His impressive start to the season, though, comes on the heels of an obstacle about seven months in length.
Last year, Lerg was coming off a 27-goal 2011-12 season as a member of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and was in his first campaign as the Monsters captain. He converted four of his first five shootout attempts, and helped the Monsters to one of their hottest starts in team history. But after 28 games in 2012-13, a knee injury caused him to miss the duration of the season.
“Last year took a toll on me,” Lerg said. “It was very frustrating. I had to start over, but mentally and physically I feel great. It was a very long summer; just the training in general took a toll, so I was pretty anxious to get back.”
Oliver referenced a conversation he and Lerg had shortly after the injury, one that drew a parallel to an injury endured by a National Football League star.
“When Lergy got hurt last year and we knew he was done for the season, he and I talked about what (Minnesota Vikings running back) Adrian Peterson did in the NFL. The work ethic, the determination, and the sacrifice that you have to have to come back; it not only takes time, but it takes all those other ingredients,” Oliver said.
“He is one of the few that I knew would be able to accomplish what he’s done. This kid’s got a work ethic that is second to none, and he shows it every practice and every game. We’re very grateful for that because he’s a huge part of our team and the Avalanche organization.”
“Brent Woodside (Monsters athletic trainer and strength coach) was a huge help,” said Lerg, a native of Livonia, Mich. “I was always in contact with him, as well as my strength trainer back home, Mike Knight. He was an enormous help for me as far as getting to where I am right now.
“I’m feeling good physically, and just need to stick with it and lead these boys in the right direction.”
A season-ending injury didn’t stop the sixth-year pro from helping lead his team. Even while on crutches, Lerg was frequently around the rink, enjoying the company of his teammates and assisting any way he could.
“We had a little nameplate for him in our office because we had him watching video and trying to learn some hockey stuff that way while he was hurt,” Oliver said. “It was a tough situation and he made the most of it.”
“He was around, he was watching video, we were talking about games and practices,” Chynoweth said. “He used his character, and the leadership seemed to come fairly natural to him.”
“I try to be a leader every day I can,” Lerg said. “It was very tough being injured, but just being around the guys took my mind away from being injured, and the guys made it a lot of fun to come to the rink. I like to be around the boys and keep them going.”
Lerg sees the captain’s ‘C’ as an honor. He immediately recognizes the core of leaders in the Monsters dressing room, from the team’s veterans to the younger players. He also credits some of his previous captains as models for the position, such as his former Michigan State teammate Chris Lawrence and former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teammate and current Springfield Falcons captain Ryan Craig.
Lerg’s first tips for wearing the ‘C’, though, came well before he joined the professional or collegiate ranks.
“Everything I’ve done in hockey is because I’ve had my dad as a father figure and as a coach,” Lerg said. “He’s helped me be who I am as a person, helped me with leading, and as a hockey player.”
This season’s Monsters lineup comes with a mix of proven veterans and great potential, and to this point, Lerg has been a key factor to say the least. He continues to make an impact on the scoresheet and in a role he holds in high regard.
“It’s an absolute honor,” he said of being captain. “Last year guys voted, and that’s how it shook out, so I was completely thrilled and honored.
“Going down with the injury was devastating. The coaches have a lot of faith in me as a player and a leader; I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to try and lead the troops here, and so far I think our team’s off to a good start.”