Lemcke earns top captain’s award
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.
Justin Lemcke in the Bulldogs’ popular alternate uniform.
Justin Lemcke raises the OHL championship trophy.