Lem­cke earns top cap­tain’s award

The Hamilton Spectator - - Sports - TERI PECOSKIE

REGINA — Be­fore the suc­cess came ad­ver­sity — a fran­chise move and los­ing sea­sons, a badly bro­ken leg and lock­er­room dis­cord.

But Justin Lem­cke over­came it and set an ex­am­ple for his team­mates in the process.

And the league took note.

This week, the Hamil­ton Bull­dogs de­fence­man was an­nounced as the re­cip­i­ent of the Mickey Re­naud Cap­tain’s Award, which is given out an­nu­ally to the team cap­tain that best demon­strates the qual­ity of lead­er­ship on and off the ice.

John Gru­den said the hon­our is well de­served.

“I think he’s done a re­ally good job and there have been some try­ing times,” added the Bull­dogs coach. “I told him a ‘C’ is a spe­cial thing. It’s not for ‘cool’ and it’s ac­tu­ally sup­posed to mean some­thing, and

I think Justin has done a good job over the past cou­ple of years un­der­stand­ing that.”

Lem­cke, 21, is the OHL’s long­est-serv­ing cur­rent cap­tain and the only player to wear the ‘C’ since the Bull­dogs moved to Hamil­ton in 2015. His ten­ure got off to a dis­as­trous start.

A few hours and two shifts af­ter be­ing named the first cap­tain in team his­tory, he ca­reened awk­wardly into the boards in a game against Sault Ste. Marie, snap­ping his fibula, shred­ding lig­a­ments and dis­lo­cat­ing his an­kle. The in­jury kept him out of the lineup for nearly four months.

In­stead of go­ing home to Whitby re­cover, Lem­cke stayed in Hamil­ton and led from be­hind the scenes — in the locker-room and in the com­mu­nity, where he vis­ited schools and hos­pi­tals and was a fix­ture at lo­cal events. That de­ci­sion set the tone for his cap­taincy.

In the years since, the six-foot­three, 203-pounder has evolved as a player and a leader. He’s more ma­ture and more con­fi­dent and his coach and team­mates say it shows.

On the ice, mean­while, his num­bers have been on a steady uptick, par­tic­u­larly in the plus­mi­nus col­umn. Over the past three cam­paigns, he’s gone from a mi­nus-12 rat­ing to a team-high plus-25.

“He has a big voice in the room and he’s not afraid to say stuff that needs to be said,” noted Jack Han­ley, a fel­low rear­guard and his long­time pal. “He’s re­ally good at find­ing the thing that will make guys go that much fur­ther for each other.”

The pin­na­cle of his cap­taincy is fresh — last week­end’s OHL cham­pi­onship, which earned the team a berth in the Me­mo­rial Cup. In fact, if it weren’t for Lem­cke and his part­ner Ri­ley Still­man, who had the her­culean task of shut­ting down some of the league’s best play­ers through­out the play­offs — a list that in­cluded Sam Miletic, Gabe Vi­lardi, Mor­gan Frost and Boris Katchouk, the same guy he be­came tan­gled up with on that leg-break­ing play nearly three years ago — there’s a good chance the Bull­dogs would not be in Regina pre­par­ing to open the tour­na­ment against the host Pats on Fri­day night.

The award is named in hon­our of Re­naud, the for­mer Wind­sor Spit­fires cap­tain who died sud­denly from a heart con­di­tion in 2008. Gen­eral man­agers from across the league nom­i­nate play­ers for the hon­our be­fore a fourmem­ber me­dia panel (which, for the record, didn’t in­clude any Spec­ta­tor re­porters) se­lects the win­ner.

JOHN RENNISON THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Justin Lem­cke in the Bull­dogs’ pop­u­lar al­ter­nate uni­form.

GARY YOKOYAMA THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Justin Lem­cke raises the OHL cham­pi­onship tro­phy.

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