Bill Guerin, who at 38 has played 17 seasons in the NHL, is captain of the NY Islanders, a team that's won just 12 of its 42 games this season.
As the writer puts it, "There is a public esteem associated with being captain, of course; a badge of respect and credit. But when a captain's ship is listing ... "
"I have," Guerin said, "my good days and bad days. It's a big honor to be captain. A big honor. [But] I feel a responsibility for the way this has gone this year. I do. It eats at you."
According to Islanders coach Scott Gordon, a team's captain, "should be an extension of the coach. His thought process should be about how things affect the team, making the team work together and setting the environment where everybody wants to be a part and pull the same way."
"It's about leading, really. Making sure guys are up and ready and excited to play. Bringing a level of professionalism and leading by example."
Guerin says it's difficult not to bring his work home with him: "Everybody says it's just a game. It's just a game for everybody else [outside the team], but it's my whole life. It's fun. A fantastic life. I have fun every day playing hockey. I never wanted to do anything else. But it's more than a game. I see people [on nights without a game] on the street at six at night and they're like, 'Aren't you playing tonight?' Like we just show up a half-hour before a game, like it's just a beer league. There's so much more that goes into it."
For the captain, there not only is the expectation to perform on the ice, but also to be a locker room leader, a primary representative of the team to the public, a player spokesman in dealing with management, an organizer of team social functions.
Says Coach Gordon:
"The biggest thing is that athletes in general always are concerned about their own production. They have to be. They need some selfishness. But the captain ... it's important he pulls it all together..."