Note: This original piece was featured in Minnesota Hockey's weekly newsletter on Oct. 22, 2013.
Kyle Rau knows what it takes to be a leader. The dynamic forward captained Eden Prairie to a Minnesota State High School League championship in 2011. This fall, as a junior, he earned the “C” for one of the most storied programs in the country, the University of Minnesota.
But what makes him captain material? What leadership traits are needed in hockey? Minnesota Hockey sat down with the Gophers’ captain and Eden Prairie Hockey Association alum.
Minnesota Hockey: What qualities do you expect out of a captain?
Kyle Rau: A captain is a leader above everything else – someone who can motivate the team to accomplish its goals and push the team to be the best it can possibly be. After that, there are a lot of different characteristics that can help make a captain – work ethic, being vocal in the locker room, etc. Good captains are normally a mix of those kinds of traits.
MH: Does a player need to be the top scorer or best defenseman to be a leader? Or can a role player or lesser-skilled player still be looked at as a leader?
Rau: I don’t think you necessarily have to be the best player or the most experienced guy to be a leader. There’s a lot of different ways to be a leader, and we have a lot of guys on our team this year who are examples of that. Someone who might not be the best player could be a leader by setting the tone in the weight room over the summer or in class. We also have guys who are motivators when we need them to be and guys who can keep it light if the situation calls for it.
MH: Do you have to set an example for your teammates off the ice as well? What types of things does that entail?
Rau: Being a captain means leading the team at all times. You don’t give up the responsibility when you take off your jersey. It’s something that continues outside of hockey too – setting an example in class, in the weight room, doing community service. You accept extra responsibility as a captain – or as any student-athlete – and part of that means being a good representative for your team and school at all times no matter what level you are playing at.
MH: As a captain, do you try and make sure everyone gets along in the locker room and that there is good team chemistry?
Rau: During the season, we spend so much time together that we basically become a family and for the most part good team chemistry develops naturally as a result. When guys are competing, there’s always going to be some tension, but we all have the same goal at the end of the day. As a leader, you just want to make sure everyone stays on track during the long season.
MH: Is there more of a teaching/mentorship role in your position? What types of things do you help younger teammates with?
Rau: I just try to make sure the younger guys get adjusted and feel comfortable on and off the ice. Your first year of college is a bit of a change with school and a new team and everything. There are a lot of things to manage even just with team responsibilities, and the older guys all make an effort to help the younger guys out.
MH: Do leaders hold themselves accountable for the entire team’s performance?
Rau: I think there’s some truth to that – as a leader you accept a level of responsibility for the entire team. But everyone on our teams holds themselves accountable for the team’s performance – we win together and we lose together.
MH: What does it mean to wear the “C” for the University of Minnesota?
Rau: Being from Minnesota, I always wanted to grow up and play for the Gophers. But being named captain this summer was a real honor especially coming from the coaching staff and my teammates. When you look back at the history of this program and some of the captains that have come through here, the bar is set pretty high. It’s a privilege to wear the “C” this season, that’s for sure.
What do you think it means to be a leader? Tweet us at @MinnHockey.