Michael Chaput admits he wasn’t expecting to hear his name called when the Tucson Roadrunners announced who would be the team’s captain for the 2019-20 season.
But ask his teammates, or coaches, or Chaput himself, and that doesn’t mean for a second he’s not up to the role.
“We had a team dinner where they announced it. I heard about it in front of everybody,” said the 27-year-old, eighth-year pro who will lead the Roadrunners (1-1-0-0) with that familiar captain’s “C” on his jersey Saturday night in Southern California when Tucson tries to slow down the surging Ontario Reign (2-0-0-0) at 6 p.m.
“I didn’t have any idea it was going to happen,” Chaput said. “But it was a really nice surprise.”
A surprise to Chaput, sure. Although he served as an alternate with the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters in 2015-16 and the Laval Rocket a year ago — that was just prior to joining the Roadrunners — Chaput had never been a captain at the professional level. But considering he has more than 150 NHL games under his belt, and that he’s now onto his fifth AHL stop, it’s not a decision that surprised others within the organization — even considering he’s still a relative newcomer to the Tucson franchise, spending the final 16 games with the Roadrunners at the close of the 2018-19 season.
Defenseman Robbie Russo noted that when Chaput arrived in Tucson after spending the early part of the season with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Laval, “things really picked up for us. He does all the right things. He leads by example.”
It also a move that made plenty sense to the Roadrunners’ coaching staff, which is managing a more mature roster in terms of both experience and age of players than a year ago.
“I saw (Chaput) when he came into our group and he just made the whole difference,” Roadrunners’ coach Jay Varady said. “I don’t think it was so much in his words — just in his actions and how he carried himself on a day-to-day basis.”
In addition to Chaput in the chief leadership role, “alternate” captainships were also presented last week, just prior to the start of the season, to Russo and forwards Michael Bunting and Andy Miele.
Varady said he’s happy with how this group of leaders shakes out, noting that they all bring something different to the table. As Varady explained, Bunting, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, is “going to lead in an emotional way. He can be very vocal.”
Russo, who along with Bunting, will wear the “A” for a second consecutive season, “is a calm, steady person who has experience so many things in pro hockey,” Varady added.
“Russo has the ability to step in and make an impact in our group exactly when a message needs to be sent.”
Miele, a brand-new Roadrunner but hardly new to the Arizona Coyote’s organization after beginning his pro career in the desert in 2010 before playing across the AHL landscape and overseas, “is pretty analytical. He has an opinion in all situations,” Varady said.
And as for Chaput: that’s the guy, Varady says, “brings that group together. He’s got a little bit of all them.”