Ates: What new Winnipeg Jets captain Adam Lowry can achieve in the role

Adam Lowry sat between his coach, Rick Bowness, and the GM who drafted him, Kevin Cheveldayoff, in front of an enormous, nine-panel screen at Winnipeg’s newly renovated Scotia Wealth Management Premium Club. Dressed in team colours — a crisp, white dress shirt and dark blue dress pants — Lowry looked at ease as Cheveldayoff took the podium to make one of Lowry’s dreams come true.

Cheveldayoff pulled a prepared statement from the breast pocket of his suit and read his introductory sentence: “It’s with great pride that we announce today Adam Lowry is the next captain of the Winnipeg Jets hockey club.”

The Jets GM got as far as “Adam” before the room broke out in applause. True North staff members, from executive chairman Mark Chipman to vice presidents to security guards, team media and a group of Lowry’s teammates, interrupted the announcement with cheers. Cheveldayoff joined them, offering his own applause in an unplanned moment of celebration that supported the event’s proud ambitions.

Lowry, a player known for big hits, physicality and a willingness to stand up for his teammates, blushed.

As Lowry’s captaincy was formally announced, the 30-year-old centre’s expression turned boyish. His face light red and and his hands clasped almost sheepishly.

Cheveldayoff continued his address, buoyed by the energy in the room. He spoke with passion and pride as he delivered the rest of his prepared words, before and after a pre-packaged hype video played on the panels behind the stage.

To me, Lowry’s humility highlighted the very reason he was chosen to be captain at all.

Cheveldayoff made his case.

“Adam embodies the characteristics and the class that the Winnipeg Jets value both on and off the ice,” Cheveldayoff said. “On the ice, Adam plays with a level of compete, consistency, character and selflessness that makes him a valued and respected teammate. Off the ice, Adam is a consummate professional and a committed representative of our True North organization who recognizes and embraces his role and his place in the community, including through his charitable efforts in our city.”

Bowness’ admiration made his pitch, too.

“If you go back to the time my son worked for the Winnipeg Jets, he spoke very highly of Adam’s character. And then I heard a lot of great things last summer before I came in here about his character, his work ethic, how competitive he is, and just he’s one of the guys, the first guy to stick up for his teammates,” Bowness said. “I saw all of those things. He’s a wonderful communicator. He’s a great guy to coach. Because he’s low maintenance. He just comes to work every day as a pro. Puts his time in.”

“And again, he’s the first guy out there to stick up for his teammates,” Bowness continued. “He has a lot of respect, not only from obviously our players and our staff and everybody else in the organization, but around the league. And that’s just as important. People know the type of person he is. They know the type of teammate he is. They know the type of competitor he is. So those are all the things that I’ve heard about him and he lived up to every one of them.”

Dig a little deeper through the quotes and the answers emerge.

“One thing we started to incorporate here is the inclusiveness of everybody. This is everybody’s team. Adam is going to be in charge of leading that,” Cheveldayoff said, before adding that Josh Morrissey and Mark Scheifele will help in their role as alternates.

Bowness was more direct, repeating a message we’ve heard before.

“When we took the ‘C’ away from Blake (Wheeler), we wanted to open up the room.”

I believe that the Lowry era of leadership will be measured by the degree to which Winnipeg becomes known for inclusivity and openness in its dressing room. Wheeler was a powerful presence in Winnipeg’s room, a strong leader and a player who would do everything — and play through anything — to help his team on the ice. His captaincy came with incredible community involvement, fundraisers for CancerCare, and behind-the-scenes moments of leadership like a well-timed hug for a grieving Morrissey — many of which will never see print. It was not always marked by an air of inclusivity. Wheeler was self-critical for his handling of Patrik Laine, as one example, while other young players reported feeling a clear sense of hierarchy within the team.

Lowry’s challenge, with Morrissey and Scheifele at his side, will be to continue Winnipeg’s momentum toward building a culture where everyone is heard. Wheeler himself was part of that change last season — multiple teammates have spoken to that effect — and I believe the Jets are on the right path. Lowry’s job is to take that culture one step further.

With that perspective in mind, I think back to the various members of team staff, building staff and players at all levels of the organization who have, unprompted, named Lowry to me as someone who treats them in a first-class, professional way every single day. It’s not the same thing as leading a team in points or being counted on to score a big goal with the game on the line. (To that end, Lowry’s playoffs were excellent and I’m sure Bowness loved that, but he can’t take over a game like Scheifele or Morrissey can. Not every observer will appreciate that.)

But Lowry gets the little things right.

Morrissey spoke to that effect in Vegas on Tuesday, telling reporters including The Athletic’s Michael Russo and Pierre LeBrun that Lowry’s excellence is rooted in his selflessness.

“What stands (out) about him as a leader is he’s a great person, the habits he has every day are truly professional and he’s an unselfish guy,” Morrissey said. “Whether he’s playing more, less, power play, PK, or not, he’s definitely for the team first. And definitely willing to stand up for his teammates, as he’s shown many times.”

Morrissey, who was a strong candidate for the captaincy, was asked by one reporter if he was disappointed he wasn’t chosen for the “C.”

“Yeah, I think it’s something you strive for. I try to be a leader. I try to pride myself in being a leader but, at the same time, you couldn’t have picked a better guy,” Morrissey said. “For our team, with the type of guy Adam is, I couldn’t be happier for him and our team. That’s all I can really say: It’s a good day for our team.”

There was a moment amid the pomp and celebration on Tuesday when I found Chipman observing the proceedings with an expression that looked to me like pride. I told him the story Lowry told me — that Chipman tapped Lowry on the shoulder toward the end of 2021-22, spoke highly of Wheeler’s, Morrissey’s and Scheifele’s community involvement, and invited Lowry to make that same kind of impact. It was the first step down Lowry’s road to a position of advocacy with the Toba Centre.


How Lowry has emerged as a leader in Winnipeg community

I told Chipman my opinion: There might be a direct connection from that day to this one. It’s not every day that True North’s executive chairman taps a player on the shoulder and invites them to make the same kind of community impact that his captains did.

Could he have imagined on that day, when inviting Lowry to get involved with the Toba Centre for Children & Youth’s advocacy work, that Lowry would one day be captain? Yes, definitely. He has imagined it was possible since 2011, when the Jets drafted Lowry 67th and Winnipeg’s scouts raved about him as captain material.

Not every positive possibility comes true. Often we make plans and circumstances sometimes make fools of us. Winnipeg had other viable candidates for its captaincy, Morrissey chief among them, and there’s no guarantee Lowry will successfully foster the culture of inclusiveness his organization seeks to keep. One of his dreams has come true now, though, and the people who made the decision believe in him to maintain the humble, team-first, service-based values that led to this moment.

In his heart, Lowry knows it.

“I think the big thing is, as cliché as it sounds, is don’t change who you are just because the letter on your jersey changes. I think part of what makes me a successful hockey player is playing hard, is competing, is trying to drag my teammates into the fight and sticking up for them and standing up for them on the ice and in the room,” Lowry said. “(That’s) the way I’m going to continue to try and play: stand up for my teammates and make them play a little bigger.”

(Photo: Jonathan Kozub / NHLI via Getty Images)

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