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Jamie Benn relishes role as captain

11/13/2013 - NHL Jamie Benn Dallas Stars + more
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

FRISCO, Texas -- Jamie Benn knew he had to say something. He had just watched as the Dallas Stars -- his Dallas Stars -- let a tie hockey game early in the third period turn into a blowout loss against the Los Angeles Kings. It was a 5-2 defeat on Oct. 20, and it left Benn unhappy about the effort of the team.

Coach Lindy Ruff didn't bother coming into the dressing room after a third period in which the Stars turned the puck over, didn't capitalize on power-play chances and were outworked too often. Ruff gave Benn the opening to take control. And the 24-year-old didn't waste the opportunity.

"I felt it was the right time to say something," Benn said. "They came out and they outplayed us. I said what I needed to say, and I think the guys got the point and we moved on.

"The way we played, it wasn't acceptable. It's not easy to win in this league, and you have to bring it for 60 minutes to get two points."

It was yet another example of how Benn has grown quickly into the role of team leader. It was a job he wanted, especially after meeting with general manager Jim Nill shortly after last season ended.

Nill, who was just getting used to his new office, talked to the leadership group on the team and within the organization and there was a consensus: This needed to be Benn's team.

It seems that with each day, it's becoming more and more apparent this is indeed Benn's team. That's saying something for someone still struggling to grow a solid mustache for Movember. But with a core that's young, it's important that youth becomes the heartbeat for this club.

"It's something I wanted because I want to be a leader of this team," Benn said of being captain. "I want to take this organization to the playoffs and hopefully win the Stanley Cup one day."

There's little doubt, not yet one-fourth into the season, that Nill and his staff made the right choice. Rather than fear the pressure of wearing the C, Benn has embraced it. Not long after that chat with Nill late last year, Benn gave up the beautiful summer weather and scenery in Vancouver for the heat of Texas and the inside of the club's workout facility in Frisco. Not exactly a fair tradeoff. But Benn knew he needed to be around his teammates, showing them how to get ready for the season. That's what leaders do.

When Nill made Benn's captaincy official in training camp, one of the first calls Benn received came from former Star Brenden Morrow. It was the trade of Morrow to Pittsburgh the previous season that created an opening for a new captain.

"He told me that I'm captain for a reason and it's because of what I've done the last four years," Benn said. "He said that just because there's a C on your jersey, you don't have to change anything. He said to keep doing what I'm doing and work hard."

But it sure seems like the C has changed Benn a bit. Stars broadcaster Daryl Reaugh described it as a "seriousness" that's shown in his attitude and game. Nill referred to it as "professionalism." Perhaps that C stands for confidence as much as it does captain.

"He's still respectful, but there's a purpose now," said Nill, who added that Benn reminds him of a young Steve Yzerman, learning his way as captain. "You can see the difference."

If you're wondering how a 24-year-old can earn respect from his peers, it doesn't hurt that outside of the goalie, he's the best player on the ice. That's not a prerequisite to the captaincy, but when you're young and establishing yourself as a leader, it helps. But Benn understands that there are times he has to step up and do more. Sometimes that even means getting into a fight to alter momentum. Other times, it means avoiding a fight at all costs. Sometimes it means getting physical. Other times, it means using his skating ability and finesse. Sometimes it means knowing what to say and when to say it. Other times, it means shutting up, even when you want to speak.

Benn is learning it all quickly and impressing his teammates.

"He's been the true leader of this team," alternate captain Stephane Robidas said. "The way he's handled himself and the way he's been playing, he wants to be the guy. He wants to do well and bring the team to the playoffs. That's all he cares about. In that regard, it's been pretty impressive to see him grow."

Benn is the first to admit he isn't a particularly vocal captain, though he's growing into that part of the job, too.

"When he does speak up, the boys are listening," said older brother and Stars defenseman Jordie Benn. "That's for sure."

Jamie Benn didn't hesitate to speak up recently to Ruff when he felt the practice schedule needed to be altered to maximize the team's energy level.

"He's not afraid to bring that message of where he thinks the team is at," Ruff said. "I think he nailed it. We had great energy afterward and adjusted our practice accordingly.

"I don't think you have to be vocal to be a leader. In fact, I think if you're too vocal, it just becomes annoying. When you step in and say something when you haven't said something in a while, it has more meaning."

Benn wants the season to have meaning, which is why he's ultra-focused and doing what he can to keep his team following that same path.

"He's not that young kid anymore that I used to see," Jordie Benn said. "The way he presents himself, the way he walks around the dressing room and the way he is with fans is different. He's really confident. He knows what he wants. He knows how he has to play every night and how he has to act to show the rest of the young guys how to be an NHLer, and he's doing a great job."

So far, there's no disputing that.