On May 31st, 2011, Gary Bettman held a press conference at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The reason? To announce that the City’s beloved Jets were finally coming back home. As expected, the city went wild with excitement. Whether it was for financial reasons, a weak Canadian dollar, or any political reasons that were never made public, Winnipeg had been wronged in a terrible manner. But, on that day, on May 31st, 2011, that unforgettable wrong, had been righted; and the heroes were True North Sports and Entertainment.
So how do things get better for Winnipeg than that right? I mean the team is under virtually no pressure to bring the city a Stanley Cup right now. With the combination of the fan’s euphoria, and the years committed by the season ticket holders, the MTS Centre will be packed for at least five years. The Jets have it made, right?
There is another thing for Jets fans to be excited about, and it’s not going to be a one-time ovation type celebration. Andrew Ladd, in his role as captain of the Winnipeg Jets, is a relationship that is going to grow and even further endear the fanbase with this team, and as a result will entrench this team once again within the community.
I had the great pleasure to talk with Andrew, and discuss his first year with this new team and this new city. I first met Andrew in his days with the Calgary Hitmen, and grew to respect him, not just as a player, but as young man; focused and dedicated. You could see even then how driven he was to be the best he could be in making his team the best they could be. A trait he carried on into the NHL, and helped him to carry not one, but two Stanley Cups.
This is not an interview about labour talks or CBA negotiation tactics. I agreed to not ask Andrew about those issues, to respect his place within the NHLPA. It’s about hockey, and a player that truly loves to play the game.
Captain of the Winnipeg Jets
Vintage Flame: After a full year with the Winnipeg Jets, how does it sound to hear that?
Andrew Ladd: It feels great, now that I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in the community and see how much this team means to Winnipeg it really hits home.
VF: How long did it take to sink in that you were the captain of a team that had been coveted to return since the day they left in 1996?
Ladd: It didn’t take long to realize the responsibility and honor that comes with being the captain of a Canadian team and I have tried to live up to that.
VF: You were 11 years old when the Jets first left Winnipeg. What do you remember from back then about the whole ordeal?
Ladd: My only memory is seeing the team thanking the crowd after their last home game.
VF: After winning Stanley Cups with both the Carolina Hurricanes and the Chicago Blackhawks, you found yourself traded to the Atlanta Thrashers. How did that sit with you?
Ladd: It’s always disappointing leaving a team you have so many good friends and memories with, but at the same time I had been around long enough to realize I was going to get more of an opportunity to play in Atlanta which I was excited about.
VF: Some players may have been dejected moving to a team that wasn’t at the level of talent that they had come from, especially after having ultimate success with both of those teams; instead, you seemed to embrace the move. Not only leading the team as their captain, you led the team in scoring. Is that just the way you’re wired? To give everything you have, to any team you play with?
Ladd: Ya like I said I thought it was a great opportunity for me to show I could play a bigger role and provide some leadership to a young team.
VF: Even back with your time in the WHL, with the Calgary Hitmen, you were always the type of player, and the guy, that could carry the load for the team and his teammates when needed. You were able to carry that trait into the NHL with three different organizations, all with different systems, yet still maintain that impact role. Why is that?
Ladd: I like to think I play a style that can play up and down a lineup in different roles as I’m needed. At this level it’s important to be able to think the game in many different ways and I think that’s one of my strengths.
VF: Was that reflected in being named the Thrashers team MVP at the end of the 2011 season?
Ladd: Not really, our team didn’t make the playoffs and any time that happens you always think about what else you could have done to help.
VF: Do you mean more as an individual or as a team?
Ladd: I mean individually you wonder where you could have been better to help the team win more games.
VF: When the Thrashers moved from Atlanta to Winnipeg, you took it upon yourself to fly to Winnipeg on your own dime to ‘get a feel for the City’. Why?
Ladd: It was important to me to meet everyone involved with the organization and see what their vision was and to be able to pass along that information to my teammates.
VF: Was there something specific you were looking for? More importantly, what did you find there?
Ladd: I think mostly to see the direction they wanted to take the team and to meet the personel. It didn’t take long to see that this was going to be a first class organization with quality people.
VF: Talk about what it was like that first night in the MTS Centre with the fans and the atmosphere.
Ladd: Electric is probably the best way to describe it! There’s so much passion for hockey in Winnipeg added to the fact they just got NHL hockey back after 15 years and they blew the roof off!
VF: Is it different being the captain of the Jets versus the captain of the Thrashers?
Ladd: Ya, there’s much more attention in a Canadian market.
VF: You are clearly one of the most popular Jets in Winnipeg. With the trip there in the off-season and captain of that city’s beloved hockey team; do you feel a special connection with the fans in Winnipeg?
Ladd: I think so, I’m proud to be the Captain of the Winnipeg Jets and try to represent the team and the city the best I can.
VF: Recently you organized a street hockey tournament in Winnipeg with some of your friends. Who was involved and what was the purpose of the tournament?
Ladd: I was asked by Cabbie from TSN if I wanted to start a pop up street hockey game in town with Mike Richards. It was kind of an experiment to use social media through twitter to start up a street hockey game and have a little fun! Cabbie set the whole thing up, we just helped out.
VF: Just in your lifetime alone, the Jets have had some legendary captains. From Dale Hawerchuk and Thomas Steen to Randy Carlyle and Keith Tkachuk. Who would you compare yourself to?
Ladd: I’m not a big fan of comparing myself to anyone, those guys played many years and did some great things for this city and I think I have a ways to go to be in their category.
VF: What’s it like when you walk around the city?
VF: You have an ‘edge’ to your game. One of the things I’ve always liked about you Andrew, is your ability to play on that edge but not cross the line. How do you maintain the discipline?
Ladd: It’s not really something I think of to be honest, I do think when I play with that edge I’m at my best but I try to be respectful of my opponents.
VF: Do you feel that’s part of your responsibility to set an example for your teammates? Or is it just a personal philosophy?
Ladd: A bit of both, I’ve always been a quiet guy who leads more by example, but have the "C" on your sweater gives you more responsibility to do that on a daily basis.
VF: Who are some of the people that you looked up to as role models in your early years?
Ladd: I was a big Canucks fan growing up and always looked up to Trevor Linden, he was a character guy who played the right way and seemed like a great leader. Joe Sakic was another guy I looked up to, he carried himself with so much class and was lots of fun to watch.
VF: You recently got married. How has life changed for you in general and as a professional hockey player?
Ladd: Well my wife is pregnant so maybe you should ask me that again after she gives birth! I think I’ve matured a lot as a person since leaving junior and a lot of that credit goes too the examples I had in Carolina my first few years.
VF: With the season now ready to get underway, how have you kept yourself sharp and in shape?
Ladd: Just skated and worked out. Tried to do some charity stuff throughout Winnipeg.
VF: How do you want to leave your mark in Winnipeg and as a Jet?
Ladd: You win a Stanley Cup!
Not much needs to be said after that. I want to thank Andrew once again for spending the time with me and all the Jets fans. If you see this guy around town, be sure to say hi, he’s always been a fan favorite in every market he’s played in.
For those of you on twitter, if you don’t already, you can follow Andrew HERE.