Captain “C”liche

by Griffin Spencer || AHL On The Beat Archive

It has been a very long off-season for Manchester Monarchs center Marc-Andre Cliche, who has been rehabbing a lower-body injury following surgery.

After spending numerous hours a day in physical therapy and in the gym, Cliche is being rewarded for his hard work not only by being cleared to play several weeks ahead of schedule, but also when head coach Mark Morris named the fourth-year forward the captain of the 2010-11 Monarchs team.

“It’s a big honor, obviously,” said Cliche, who takes over as captain after serving as an assistant captain last season alongside former teammate Gabe Gauthier, and under the direction of former captain Drew Bagnall. “Especially when we have a young team, it’s a big responsibility.”

On Oct. 29, prior to the Monarchs game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Morris announced his captain for the 2010-11 season to the locker room. In addition to the “C” being sewn on Cliche’s jersey, defenseman Alec Martinez, defenseman Thomas Hickey and center Oscar Moller were named assistant captains. Only two assistants can wear the “A” each night, which means the three players will rotate the duties on a game-by-game basis.

“Any one of [the assistant captains] could have been named captain,” explained Cliche. “It’s just a letter. All four of us, we’re all captains and we all take the same responsibility. Hickey is a good defenseman who is really good offensively and (Martinez) is a little bit older than him and is a really good leader of the defensive squad. (Moller) played in the NHL for a lot of games last year, so he knows how to play the game and how the game works. He was big for us in the playoffs last year. They all could lead the team just as good as I could.”

Cliche, a 23-year-old native of Rouyn-Noranda, Que., is not only the ninth captain in Monarchs history, but also the youngest. He is following in the footsteps of Dane Jackson (2001-03), Richard Seeley (2003-04 and 2005-06), Chris Schmidt (2004-05), Brendan Buckley (2006-07), Jon Klemm (2007-08), Gabe Gauthier (2007-08), Marty Murray (2008-09) and Bagnall (2009-10).

He may not have worn the “C” on his jersey prior to this season but he has learned quite a bit from last season’s captain, who also happened to be his roommate.

“I have really big shoes to fill,” explained Cliche, referring to the proverbial footwear of Bagnall. “He taught me a lot last year while being an assistant captain. He gave me a few pointers. It’s a big honor and I’m looking forward to the responsibility.”

Cliche certainly is no stranger to the big stage, as he helped advance the Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the 2007 Memorial Cup tournament while recording 22 points in 16 post-season games. Also, during the same year, Cliche was a member of the gold medal winning Team Canada at the 2007 World Junior Championship.

Not far removed from his World Junior Championship success, Cliche, despite being only 23 years old, can certainly be considered one of the veterans of this year’s squad. The average age of the players on this year’s opening day squad was 23 years and 1.5 months, as opposed to the “ancient” team constructed last year, whose average age was 23 years and six months.

This fact is not lost on defenseman Hickey, who may only be 21, but has experience in a leadership role as he was the captain for both the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds prior to coming to Manchester and the gold medal winning Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships. This may only be his second professional season but he is prepared to help lead the Monarchs to success.

“It’s an honor, definitely an honor,” explained Hickey. “We’ve got a young group of guys, but we’ve got guys that have been (named captain) with the teams they’ve played for in the past and to be singled out as one of those guys is a great compliment. At the same time, it’s a great challenge too, so I’m really excited.”

When asked about how the captain and assistant captains of a hockey team influence one’s play on the ice, Hickey took a different direction when explaining the influence of a captain.

“It’s (about being) more (influential) as a person,” explained Hickey of his experience with his first professional captain Drew Bagnall last season. “He has a relationship with every guy on the team and it’s unique to every single player to know that someone that’s very important to our team cares about every single guy so much. That was big for me, so you try to rub that off to the rest of your teammates.”

Martinez realizes the challenges that lie with leading a young hockey team to success.

“I know we have a young group and it’s pretty important we show up every night and provide a good example and give the team a kick in the butt if we need one but also allow for a little positive reinforcement,” explained Martinez.

Although one might think being the captain of a professional hockey team requires a person to be strait-laced, to the point and serious at all times, Coach Morris certainly disagrees with that sentiment.

“Marc-Andre embodies all the qualities of a true leader," said Morris. "His high compete level coupled with his grit and determination will serve as a great role model for this young team. Marc-Andre’s sharp wit, his honesty and keen sense of humor keeps everyone on their toes.”

Along with earning the trust and admiration of his teammates, Cliche has earned the respect of the coaching staff, as well as the entire organization.

“We have witnessed him bounce back from serious injuries and watched him shut down some of the top forwards in the league. He is a key member of our penalty killing unit and his example will set a standard for others to follow,” explained Morris.

Following a long summer of rehabilitation, Cliche finally saw game action when he returned to the ice on Oct. 29, but he is still working on a few things.

“It was a long summer for me,” said Cliche. “It was a lot of rehab and a lot of workout for my legs. Coming back to a young team and being named Captain, it’s a big boost to my confidence. I need to get my timing back and my game legs and after that, we’ve got a really good team.”

Cliche was held off the score sheet in his first two games back with the Monarchs. Despite Manchester coming out on the losing end of those two games, there is no doubt the captain is ready to guide the team back to their winning ways.

“We had a streak going but I kind of destroyed that, so we’ll try to start another one,” said a smiling Cliche.