Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ladd's a leader, no doubt about it

He made it clear from get-go he was a rock

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Andrew Ladd began leading the Winnipeg Jets before they even knew that was going to be their name and he hasn't stopped.

New city, new organization, new coach and new everything could have been cause for this club to come unravelled but Ladd stepped up early and hammered a peg into the ground that his teammates cling to for stability.

The 26-year-old two-time Stanley Cup champion has been a rock and kept the centre level when all around was going topsy-turvy.

With 20 goals and 16 assists after Thursday night's three-point effort Ladd continued to build on a solid campaign. There have been some struggles, but now when things mean the most he's elevated his game and dragged his teammates along with him. Over the last four games he's scored four goals and added four assists as the Jets have surged into third place in the Eastern Conference.

But Ladd may have made his best move of all this past summer when the organization was unsettled and just beginning to find its way in the NHL.

The story is well-known yet still bears repeating.

Ladd and the rest of the world had just learned the Atlanta Thrashers had been sold lock, stock and barrel to some outfit named True North and were being moved to Winnipeg. Immediately there was gossip about players not wanting to leave the Dirty South for the Chilly North but Ladd calmly and confidently put the brakes on the chatter with his first display of leadership to the people of Manitoba.

On the verge of free agency and with no idea how his new bosses felt about him, Ladd elected to buy a plane ticket to Winnipeg and take a tour of the town. Then he began texting his teammates and telling them it was going to be great to play for Canada's seventh NHL franchise in our Prairie town. Then he told the Jets to assemble the media and put the message out to the world.

Winnipeg was going to be a good fit for him and his teammates. The whispers would continue for a short time but they soon faded altogether. In one afternoon of diplomacy Ladd had made sure there would be no mutiny and not even any grumbling about the life that was soon to begin in Winnipeg. He gave the doubters a quick slap and shut them down before they could really get going.

It could have been a dangerous and damaging time for the franchise but Ladd's message carried the day.

A few weeks later he signed a five-year contact extension to cement his relationship with the organization and this city. It should never be forgotten.

Ladd isn't Winnipeg's best player and he never will be. But he's the glue. He's got his teammates' back and he had ours before he even he knew us.

We should make sure we've got his.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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