Captain Duncanson steers Skipjacks in right direction Laird appreciates left wing's leadership

November 15, 1991|By Jeff Fletcher

Craig Duncanson is not a fast skater, and he knows it. He's not a great scorer, and he knows that, too. But he is a valuable member of a hockey team, and Rob Laird knows that.

Before this season, Duncanson's first in the Washington Capitals system, the Baltimore Skipjacks coach honored him by naming him captain.

"It's a testament to Craig Duncanson's leadership qualities," said Laird, who spent enough time with Duncanson, 24, in training camp to know the left wing was the man for the job.

"One of Craig's strongest suits is his hockey sense," Laird said. "He knows the game well. He has a great ability to recognize situations on the ice and react."

The quick elevation on a team was a familiar script for Duncanson, who was captain of the AHL's Moncton Hawks last season, his first in the Winnipeg Jets system.

"He brings leadership to a team," said Skipjacks center Simon Wheeldon, who came over from the Jets' system with Duncanson and Brent Hughes in a May 21 trade. "When it comes to crunch time, he's always there. He's good in the corners. He's a good team guy."

Duncanson, who seemed a little embarrassed by the praise, said he gets his leadership from experience. After being selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round (ninth overall) of the 1985 draft, he spent five seasons bouncing around the system. In December 1989, he asked to be traded to an organization that would give him a better chance to play in the NHL.

On Sept. 6, 1990, Duncanson got his wish -- twice. Within about an hour, he was traded from the Kings to the Minnesota North Stars, then from the North Stars to the Jets. After a year playing for Moncton and Winnipeg, he was sent to the Capitals.

"I don't think I have a great knowledge of hockey," he said. "I just think I've played a lot of years under a lot of different coaches. [The captaincy] is certainly an honor, but I think we have four or five guys who could be captain."

Duncanson, whose strengths are mostly in the defensive end, defines the term "hard-nosed." He is one of many Skipjacks who would just as soon skate through an opponent as around him. Besides, Duncanson doesn't have the speed to skate around anyone.

"I think I have to use every advantage I can," he said. "If I can be aggressive or verbal on the ice and intimidate somebody, I have to do that because someone else might have a speed advantage over me."

Laird said, "He adds to the overall toughness of the hockey team when he can assert himself on the ice."

This season, Duncanson has had success scoring, too. He has nine goals, including four game-winners, and nine assists. The goals, Duncanson said, are more the result of being in the right place at the right time than anything else.

"I rarely score from outside of six feet," he said.

But that doesn't matter to Laird, who has players like Wheeldon, John Purves and Reggie Savage to do the scoring.

"Craig is a vocal guy in the dressing room," Laird said. "He's a vocal guy on the ice. I've seen him spending time with the rookies on a lot of stuff. I think he can pass a lot on to the guys."

In typical Duncanson fashion, he responded modestly.

"There are little things I can offer as advice," he said. "But I'd hope young guys like Trevor Halverson [a Capitals first-round pick in June] will surpass what I've accomplished and go on to the NHL."

Duncanson, who has played 35 games with the Kings and Jets, says he has an eye on expansion -- the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators will create about 45 new NHL jobs when they begin play next season -- but he's not obsessed with the idea.

Naturally, he wants to play in the NHL, but his experience in pro hockey has taught him all he can do is play well in the minors and hope for the best.

"Sometimes the guys who make the NHL aren't the best players," he said. "It takes luck and hard work. You have to be in the right place at the right time."

Just like one of his goals.

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