PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The Red Wings don’t do things by accident, so it wasn’t an accident that in the 2002-03 season they put rookie Henrik Zetterberg next to Steve Yzerman in the dressing room.
When the Wings take the ice for Tuesday’s Red-White Game, it will likely be the first time that Zetterberg’s sweater has the captain’s ‘C’ on it.
It’s hardly been a secret that Zetterberg is in line to follow fellow Swede Nick Lidstrom as the team’s next captain.
“We’re going to anoint a new captain. It doesn’t happen every other year in Detroit,” said winger Danny Cleary. “It’s a pretty special thing.”
Zetterberg, 32, learned from both Yzerman and Lidstrom as he ascended from seventh-round draft choice in 1999 to star status in the NHL.
“Just the way (Yzerman) handled himself on and off the ice, how he prepared for every practice and every game, how much time he spent in the weight room, just led by example,” Zetterberg said. “When Nick was the captain as well, he did the same thing. Those are the things that I want to try to do now and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Zetterberg’s teammates have all heartily endorsed him as their primary leader.
“I think Hank’s been groomed to be our captain for many, many years now,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Ever since he got in here, he sat beside Stevie and learned a lot from him. Hank, he’s been a captain for many years even though he hasn’t had the ‘C.’ Of course we had Nick but Hank is just as good a leader and he brings it every night. That’s what you want from your leader.”
Added Cleary: “It’s a great choice. He would be a unanimous vote in here. I think Hank, the biggest thing for me is that he’s so unselfish. He’s such a personable guy. He’s a star. He’s got great talent on the ice, but he’s very respectful off the ice and he’s vocal when he needs to be and he leads by example.”
Zetterberg is hardly the loud, boisterous type. But his teammates believe he’ll seem more so in comparison to the exceptionally quiet Lidstrom.
“Z’s definitely going to be more vocal than Nick,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Nick spoke when he needed to and led by example. Z is more vocal throughout the room.”
Cleary said that while Yzerman, Lidstrom and Zetterberg all have different personalities, they do share some qualities.
“I think as a captain, all you look for is you look for the players to respect you and you lead by example, by working hard and by being an honest player and treating people with respect,” Cleary said. “That’s what Stevie did, that’s what Nick did and I know Hank will.”
Zetterberg’s role will also be to serve as a liaison between the players and coaching staff. Coach Mike Babcock believes Zetterberg is perfect for the job.
“He and I have a relationship where he doesn’t mind getting mad at me and I don’t mind getting mad at him,” Babcock said. “I don’t have any problem with that. He doesn’t mind telling me what defense the team needs to do, which I think is very important. He doesn’t mind standing up for the guys and telling you what he thinks.”
On the ice, Zetterberg has led the team in scoring the past three seasons, with Pavel Datsyuk tying him in 2009-10.
For Zetterberg, that’s not what he considers most important in terms of being a captain.
“Just to have a good feeling in the locker room,” Zetterberg said. “Have a good group of guys that kind of come together and perform good hockey. You need to speak at the right moment and know when to shut up at the right moment.
“It’s not just one guy who’s got to do it, everyone has to do it together.”
Expect the mood to be joyous on Tuesday as the Wings and their fans officially welcome Zetterberg as their new captain.