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Gazette Premium Content Klee: Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog growing into captain's title

by PAUL KLEE The Gazette - Updated: March 26, 2014 at 8:44 pm

DENVER — Eric Decker is gone. So, too, are his dreamy locks and GQ stubble.

But wipe those tears, ladies. The title of Colorado heartthrob is in able hands.

"Is that right?" Gabriel Landeskog said with a laugh Tuesday.

It's right, all right. And that's not some goofy columnist doing the voting. When Landy's mug graces the videoboard at Pepsi Center, the female reaction speaks loud and clear:

A picture is worth a thousand "Awwwws."

"Those are big shoes to fill, Eric Decker. He was pretty popular," Landeskog said. "I love it here. I love the people here. If they want to call me a heartthrob or not, I'll take it. But you'd have to ask the ladies."

Awwww.

This is an involuntary appointment, heartthrob of Colorado sports. So was his appointment as captain of the Avalanche. That's worked out, wouldn't you say?

Don't forget about Landy.

With Matt Duchene raising Olympic gold, Nathan MacKinnon skating away with the Calder Trophy, Patrick Roy clearing space for the Jack Adams and Semyon Varlamov the team MVP, it's tempting to overlook a key player in this hockey revival.

The captain.

At 12, Landeskog was the captain — of his peewee team in Sweden. "I guess they saw something back then," he said. At 19, he was the fourth captain in Avs history.

I guess they saw something then. There's a reason the club made certain MacKinnon's locker is next to Landeskog's in the dressing room, and a reason Roy announced way back in May that Landeskog would remain a captain under his watch.

The title is in able hands.

For any kid who dreams of skating in the NHL, the story of Landeskog's appointment is one to remember. Prior to the 2012 season, coach Joe Sacco and captain Milan Hejduk summoned Landeskog into an office high above the team's practice rink.

"They said I was the guy, that it was my turn, to take over the torch after Milan," Landeskog said. "It was an amazing gesture by him to do that."

For any kid learning his way through an NHL season on a losing team, the story of his first season as captain is one to forget. Last year by season's end, the culture in the dressing room was as funky as the sweaty socks tossed into the hamper.

"Looking back, maybe I was too young, maybe I wasn't ready," Landeskog said. "But at the same time I said from day one, I wasn't going to be the perfect captain."

When Roy took over as coach, he had a simple message for Landeskog: Don't stress it, man. Play free. To help the captain, Roy expected leadership from all comers.

"This is a young group. The older guys don't need a C on their jersey," Roy said Tuesday. "I didn't ever have a C or an A on my jersey. It didn't matter. I knew I could bring some leadership."

Roy explained the trickle-down leadership dynamic in a formula all Avs fans can understand: "Paul (Stastny) does the same for Landy as Ray (Bourque) did for Joe (Sakic) at some point." The captaincy became an Avs thing, not a Landy thing.

His profile in Denver — at least among certain demographics — remains somewhat anonymous. It's more rare when Landeskog is recognized in public.

"Last week I went to a restaurant, and there was a nice couple sitting a few tables down," he said. "They wanted to buy a glass of wine for my friends and me. It showed me again how respectful everyone is in Denver."

He seems to view autographs and photos as opportunities to live out a childhood dream.

"I don't mind it at all. I think about it this way: When you're growing up, it's something you hope for," he said. "I remember what it's like to be a kid and see someone you look up to."

Likewise, Landy became a kid when he met Swedish great Peter Forsberg in a charity hockey game a few years ago: "I didn't really know what to say to him."

Earlier this season, in late November, the captain turned 21. Avs teammates Jamie McGinn, Ryan O'Reilly and P.A. Parenteau took him out on the town for a wild night of …. sushi.

"I ordered a glass of wine," Landeskog said. "She asked for my ID."

After a pause, he said, "Actually, I was proud to show that."

That's the captain of the Avs. The title is in good hands.

-

Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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