GLENS FALLS -- Nolan Yonkman took a knee next to Ryan Culkin as practice was winding down. The captain spoke to Culkin briefly, presumably about the rookie’s burst of frustration earlier in practice, before the two got up and joined a slapshot drill.
Yonkman is very conscious of his role as the Adirondack Flames’ captain. He’s both the vocal type and the lead-by-example type. So when a player acts in frustration, as Culkin did, slamming his stick against the glass, Yonkman reads the situation and reacts accordingly. Sometimes, that means saying something, sometimes it means leaving the player to sort things out himself.
That’s what being a captain is, reading the situation and assessing what your team needs.
“Every year it’s different,” Yonkman said. “Every group is different. Sometimes you need to be hard, sometimes you need to be fun, sometimes you need to be serious.”
Coach Ryan Huska didn’t think his team had enough veteran presence; that’s why the Flames signed Yonkman. He wanted that veteran to stand up and be a vocal leader. Yonkman started in Calgary’s training camp and signed an AHL contract when he was cut. The Flames shopped around for a veteran leader at defenseman, but held off waiting to see where Yonkman landed.
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Corey Potter, another veteran defenseman, thinks Yonkman does a good job of keeping the team focused. Every team needs a vocal leader to speak from the players’ standpoint, hold players accountable and get things back on track. Yonkman does that for the Flames.
He does the little things. He stands at the door as his teammates file off the ice, fist-pumping each player after the game. It was Yonkman who sought out a symbol to award the best player of each game, settling on an old worn fireman’s hat.
Those are the things a captain does. He notices when a player needs a boost or maybe needs to be brought back down to earth. He also does the right things on the ice; Yonkman is one of two players (the other being Bill Arnold) who has played every game so far. Huska likes the way Yonkman plays the game “full-out all the time” and suggested he helps the coaching staff develop players by setting that example.
Yonkman considers himself responsible for every individual on the team, making sure everyone is feeling good. It’s possible to over-lead, though, so sometimes the best thing a captain can do is nothing.
The 33-year-old has been captain each of the past six years, for three different teams, so he’s had some time to figure out what works. He knows that with a young team like the Flames, it’s important to impart the right tone. A lot of players and coaches preach an even-keeled approach (not too high with the wins, not too low with the losses), but Yonkman seems to live it. That’s key for a team that has followed a nine-game winning streak with three losses.
“You’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never as good as you think you are,” Yonkman said. “When the streak ends, you have to learn how to reboot yourself and not get into a ‘Groundhog Day’ mentality.”
Now, the Flames need to shake off the last couple losses. Yonkman would like to see a more business-like attitude to the start of the game. But he liked the hunger he saw in the room after Tuesday’s loss; no one was settling for the loss, they wanted a win.
Read Diana C. Nearhos's blog at poststar.com/flames and follow her on Twitter, @dianacnearhos.