Redden honored by captaincy

by Bruce Berlet || AHL On The Beat Archive

When the Connecticut Whale gathered for a team meal on an early-March Saturday night in Manchester, N.H., head coach Ken Gernander had a surprise, especially for veteran defenseman Wade Redden.

After the Whale had been without a captain for nearly 16 months, Gernander announced he and assistants J.J. Daigneault and Pat Boller had decided the man affectionately known as “Papa” would be wearing the “C” for the first time in his illustrious career.

Redden had been an assistant captain several times, including since he arrived in Hartford last season, but never was the official leader of the pack.

“He kind of announced it unexpectedly, but it was all good,” Redden said of being awarded the captaincy. “It’s a nice honor, for sure, but it was a bit surprising. It’s been awhile since Dane (Byers, the last player to wear the “C” for the franchise) has been traded, and no one had been named captain, though that’s not a huge deal for the team not to have one. There’s obviously a good group of guys here who are great leaders, but it’s an honor for me to get it, and we’ll try to do our best to do as good as we can down the stretch.”

Gernander said there were a few candidates for the captaincy, which has been vacant since Byers were traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right wing Chad Kolarik on Nov. 10, 2010. But while fellow assistant captain Kris Newbury was another high on the list, Redden seemed a natural after he returned Feb. 18 after missing two months because of injury.

“He has a lot of real good qualities from the way he handles himself both on and off the ice and the way he interacts with his teammates and what he shows as far as leadership on the ice and the way the other guys look to him at times,” Gernander said. “We haven’t had a captain for a while, but there had been a lot of movement and transactions early on in the season, and he missed a lot of time because of injury, so now that he’s back and healthy, we thought it was time to name him.

“Even while he was out injured, I think you could see he was a guy who knew how to handle himself, carry himself, and was a very good professional. I think guys responded to that, so when we were comfortable that he was back and healthy and playing, it’s going to be important that we have some leadership going down the stretch and into the playoffs.”

Despite his first go-round as a captain and the importance of this time of the season, Redden said he isn’t about to alter his personality or what he has done for 15 pro seasons after being the second overall pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.

“I don’t think anything changes,” said Redden, who has three goals and 13 assists in 41 games. “I think I’ve always been looked to to be a leader on the team, and that’s not going to change anything. I’m not going to try to be overly vocal or anything. I’m not going to try to do too much that way just because they appointed me the captain. I’ve always tried to lead and help out where I could, and that’s going to say the same.”

Redden has exuded nothing but class since being sent to Hartford in September 2010, helping youngsters such as Ryan McDonagh, Tomas Kundratek, Pavel Valentenko, Michael Del Zotto, Stu Bickel and Jyri Niemi, who idolized Redden growing up in Finland, improve.

“We, as a staff, are proud of Reds and everything he has done,” Gernander said.

As fate would have it, Redden, who is three months shy of his 35th birthday, feels he was helped by a knee injury that sidelined him from Dec. 17 to Feb. 18.

“I obviously didn’t play there for a while, and the rest of the body also had time off, not just the knee was healing,” said Redden. “It’s a long grind, and I used that time to keep myself ready and did everything I could to heal up and stay ready to go, so I’m feeling good right now.

“And when you get to March, everyone gets that excitement back when you see the playoffs are near. Every game means so much now, so it’s a fun time of year to be playing. We’ve got a lot to play for, and for me, it’s always exciting coming to the rink at this time of year. Playoffs are around, and I think everyone likes playing in that atmosphere.”

Redden hopes his refreshed state will allow him to help the Whale even more than usual in the most important part of the season.

“We’ve worked hard to get where we are, and there’s a lot of big games left so we want to do the things that make us successful and do them real hard,” Redden said. “We don’t want to change much at this time because we’ve worked hard to build ourselves into the team we want to be. Now we just have to trust in each other and have some fun out there.”

Fun is something a few of Redden’s teammates have already had at the expense of their captain. After Gernander made the announcement, Kelsey Tessier and Scott Tanski tweeted the news to the world, congratulating “Papa” on his new position. It was a friendly reference to Redden nearly being old enough to be the father of teammates such as Tessier, Tanski, Tim Erixon, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Ryan Bourque. But it also was a serious sign of respect for someone following in the footsteps of Gernander, who captained the team for its first eight seasons, Craig Weller, Andrew Hutchinson, Greg Moore and Byers.

“I actually got that nickname from (defenseman) Paul Mara when I was in New York,” Redden said with a chuckle. “He’s a good guy, and I don’t know how it kind of stuck. He was ‘Uncle Paulie’ and I was ‘Papa Reds.’ The (Whale) guys picked up on it, and I just think it comes with the territory being an older guy. But it’s all in fun, and I still have lots to play for and hopefully still get another run at (the NHL), so I’ve always tried to continue as I have been.”