I was never the captain of my hockey teams when I was a kid, which was fine with me, it was never a big deal for me – as long as I was the first line center. I always thought I wasn’t the captain because in the younger junior teams, the captain was named by the coach, and the coach was my father. I figured that Dad didn’t want to make me the captain to avoid talk of favoritism.
I also assumed that was the reason he expected me to be the hardest working player on the ice and why he though benching me was a good way to signal to the team that they should pick up the pace. (It only happened once, but I remember it well).
Also, I never wanted to be the captain.
In soccer, though, it was a different matter. I loved being the captain on that team. I mean, the workload was light and there were few responsibilities because the coaches took care of all pep talks and team management. After all, we were only 12.
However, as captain I did get to wear the armband, I got to be at the coin toss before the game and, if I won it, it was me who got to choose our side (or if I was happy with the way things were, to take the first kickoff). And after the game, it was my duty to stand in front of my teammates and lead them to a thank-you cheer to the other team.
The job was so small that if I’d never been a captain before, I wouldn’t have dreamt about getting to do it. But since I did have it, it made me feel special.
I never missed a coin flip, I never chose the wrong side, and I never stammered in the game-ending cheer, so you can understand how upset I was when, before a game in a big tournament, our coach stripped me of the captaincy. No armband, no coins, no ref talk, no feeling the direction of the wind or calculating the angle of the sun to make the best side choice, and no bandleader moves after the game.
In the immortal words of “Wayne Campbell” in the 1990s hit movie “Wayne’s World: “Denied.”
It should be said that the coach understood it, and he took me aside before he told the team, to tell me about his decision.
“Risto, I think it’s best if K was the captain in this game,” he said, and continued after a pause, “since the game is against a Swedish team and he speaks Swedish.”
“Of course,” I said, and ran back to the team.
We lost the game but that has nothing to do with who was the captain because lost all our games in the tournament. I probably played just as well (or poorly) as in the other games, and I liked the coach just as much as I liked him before the tournament. But I didn’t forget that, and who knows, maybe that’s why I write this in Sollentuna, Sweden, married to a wonderful Swedish lady. Maybe I studied Swedish diligently at school so that nobody would ever be able to take my armband away from me because I didn’t speak the language.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I suggested to the other coaches that Daughter would make a good captain on her ringette team’s trip to Finland.
“I mean, she does speak the language,” I told them.