What Do the "A" and the "C" Stand for on Hockey Jerseys?
Many hockey fans have probably noticed the letter 'A' or 'C' on some hockey players' jerseys and wondered, what do they mean? If you've followed sports for some time, you're probably familiar with the team captain concept, and that's exactly what the C stands for. But that A is for 'alternate captain.'
The A's and the C's of Hockey
Hockey does things a little bit differently from other sports, in case you hadn't noticed. And the way hockey designates its captains is also slightly different. In the National Hockey League, each team can have only one captain. That player wears a C on their uniform, usually on the upper left side of the jersey. A team can also designate up to two alternate captains. Or, if no captain is identified, a team can have three alternate captains. But don't confuse the A for 'assistant' captain—the title is specifically known as the 'alternate' captain. Alternate captains wear the A on the upper left part of their jersey, or if space does not allow for it there, on the upper right.
What is the Role of a Captain in Hockey?
The main role of a captain is to speak to the referees when they call penalties, or for interpretations of rules. Then they carry those messages to the bench for the coaches to hear—the captain of the team is the only player allowed to do this. The alternate captains serve the same role if the captain is on the bench, injured, or serving a penalty. And that's the end of the captain's role according to the NHL rules. But the role of a captain, and the alternate captains, goes deeper than the rule book.
The captain is much more of a team leader—someone respected and admired by fans, teammates, coaching staff, and management. They are the leader of the locker room, are expected to behave as a role model, act as the conduit between players and coaches or management, and are often the face of the team at public events or ceremonies.
How Is a Hockey Team Captain Chosen?
There is no rule or standard for how a player becomes a team captain. On some teams, the captain is elected by a vote of the team. Sometimes, the captain is appointed by the coach or management. Usually, a captain is a veteran player who has earned the right. And usually, they are already a leader in the locker room, and their selection is seen as an endorsement by the team of leadership qualities. More and more, the captain is a star player—sometimes they're not the veteran so much as they are the leading scorer, even if that comes at a very young age. Sidney Crosby was named the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins before he even turned 20, yet he's the fourth youngest player to wear the C on his chest. Connor McDavid of Edmonton was a month younger than Crosby when he first wore the C on his sweater for the Oilers in 2016, and is the second youngest player ever to earn the honor.
Goalies Can No Longer Serve as Captains
Bill Durnan of the Montreal Canadiens was the last goalie to wear the C on his sweater when he captained the Habs in 1947–48. After that year, the NHL ruled that goalies could no longer serve as captains because it was too disruptive to the game for a goalie to skate in for an official ruling, relay that to the bench, and return to the crease. Neither can goaltenders serve as alternate captains. In all, six NHL goalies were named captains of their clubs before the rule change.
The Debate Over Hockey's C's and A's
Being named the captain of a hockey team is an honor that can draw fans into prolonged debates over the Cs and the As. It's also not forever. Angry coaches have taken the C from players for poor performance on the ice, or after a battle with a coach or team official. And some team captains have resigned over squabbles with the team or in protest over a team decision. In 1980 Toronto Maple Leafs center Darryl Sittler infamously ripped the C off his sweater and resigned the position after the team traded his best friend.
It's an exciting moment when your favorite player puts the C on their sweater for the team you've spent a lifetime rooting for. The glory of being named captain is a nice cherry on top of a long, storied career, an outward sign of the respect that player has earned on the ice and off.