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Zach has your back, Jets

Blue-liner's character, leadership make him valuable on and off the ice

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Every sports franchise needs a conscience. A human weather vane that instinctively detects when something is wrong and then stands up to act on it.

Such a player is invaluable and irreplaceable.

Zach Bogosian is growing into that role and at just 22, is developing into the kind of leader teams covet and sometimes never find.

The Winnipeg Jets will someday be Bogosian's team, in mind, body and spirit.

Late Thursday night in the visitor's dressing room at Consol Energy Center, Bogosian showed the instincts of natural leadership.

When reporters were ushered into the Jets dressing room following a 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were greeted by Bogosian sitting at his stall in a near empty dressing room. The Jets had offered the Pens little resistance and it was not the performance of a playoff team, something this group talks about being, on a near-daily basis.

There was Bogosian, fuming but not avoiding the questions about his team's effort and inconsistency. He most likely didn't want to talk but for him it's not a choice, it's a responsibility. Bogosian doesn't have to think about what's right, he just reacts and is almost unfailingly correct.

So there he was, chopping off his words in an angry growl.

"They're a good hockey team," he said. "I wouldn't say they're unbeatable. They play a good team game and when we're playing a good team game we are too. I don't accept this. We're professional athletes. We're not going to accept anything but winning."

It used to be that leaders and veterans in professional hockey always waited to face the music. Good or bad. Those days are gone -- players are allowed to flee to the trainer's room or any other media-restricted chamber. Certain players are trotted out and media can place requests for others, which may or may not be filled.

Bogosian is always available. It's not out of a sense of duty to media but to the ticket-buying public. Bogosian understands media as the conduit to the fans and he acknowledges the responsibility that comes with being professional athlete earning seven figures.

Bogosian takes his responsibilities to his teammates even more seriously and that's why he put his surgically repaired wrist on the line a few weeks back against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Leafs defender Korbinian Holzer was giving Jets winger Evander Kane a hard time and Bogosian flew in from the blue-line and pummelled Holzer.

It was Bogosian's first fight since having his wrist operated on this summer and enduring a six-month rehab. The entire Jets organization had to have been holding its breath as he fired his fist at his opponent. Later, Bogosian would simply explain the act as the right thing to do for the team.

It was the kind of response that Jets management would have noticed. But they already know far more about Bogosian's character and will to win than anyone outside their circle could ever surmise.

The Jets will sign him to a long-term deal this summer. I won't guess at the money but it will be a lot and for a term in the neighbourhood of six years and perhaps even for the allowed maximum of eight.

Bogosian is not just about leadership as anyone who has watched the Jets this season can tell you. He can skate, he hits and has a heavy shot. Scouts say he has all the physical tools and his hockey sense is improving. Bogosian may not be a No. 1 defenceman but he's developing into a very effective player. The kind coaches count on in the most important moments in games.

On a team that still struggles to find a consistent level of effort, Bogosian almost always brings his best. Maybe there are nights when he's not clicking or his legs feel a little heavy, but rare is the game where he's not engaged.

It doesn't end there. Bogosian does whatever it takes off the ice to make sure he is prepared to give the team his best.

That's not universal across the Jets roster. The level of commitment to fitness and year-round preparation is uneven.

Dustin Byfuglien may be the Jets most talented player but he's not conditioned at an elite level. It holds him back. He could be better and he could make the Jets better. But it's just not there.

The same can never be said about Bogosian. What he lacks in comparison to Byfuglien's natural ability is made up for in work ethic and commitment.

Bogosian leaves nothing he can control to chance. The Jets can count on Bogosian. Now and in the future. He is a pillar upon which great things can be built.

Men like Bogosian win games for teams. Lots and lots of games, season after season.

Maybe Zach Bogosian isn't a franchise player but he's a franchise person.

It will be interesting to see what that's worth. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 C3

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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
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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