In my opinion, leadership is a battle for the hearts and minds of others. It is not a spectator sport. It is not a popularity contest. True test is trying to bring greatness forth.
Mike, I still vividly remember the first time I met you. It was at the New York State Fair in August of 2012 and you had given up part of your well-deserved off season after winning that Calder Cup with Norfolk to come to Syracuse and start meeting members of your new fan base. The Tampa Bay Lightning had just recently affiliated with the Syracuse Crunch and with the 2012 NHL lockout looming, it seemed important that the fans start getting to know their new team as soon as possible. The organization started with you.
There has been so much about your game and your personality that impressed me over the past four seasons, but the biggest thing that has always stuck with me was the respect you showed every fan of this organization. On that hot, humid afternoon in August, Maggie Walters introduced me to you by name. And despite the hundreds of people you met that day, you remembered my name, and used it every single time you saw me at events and in the community.
I don't think you were ever really aware of how much that impressed me or how much that meant to me. Showing that kind of respect to the fans of the team you play for is second nature to you, so there was no reason for you to realize how much of an impression you made on me with that simple gesture. Someone recently said that you have the ability to treat every fan you meet like a member of your own family, and I want you to know how rare that is, and, furthermore, how much fans at the AHL level value that kind of positive connection.
Being a captain in this league is one of the most important and demanding jobs anyone could have, and I'll be the first to admit that I was sometimes hard on you in the beginning of the affiliation. I never really knew for sure if you read or heard about my words, but regardless, you always seemed to rise to the challenge and prove me wrong. I came to love and respect that, too. Your tenacity, especially during rough times, was something I admired.
Honestly Mike, I was never more proud than when you were selected to the All-Star team this past season. Everything you had done in this city over the previous four seasons was brought out into the spotlight during your publicity work for the event, and it felt so good to see you get attention for everything you've done here. The emphasis on your charity work with children with cancer was especially heartwarming. Syracuse has not just lost a well-known sports figure with the reality of you moving on, it's lost a dear friend that truly cared about some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
You always did your best to bring greatness forth during your time here, Mike. Always. Whether it was rallying the community around an amazing cause, getting the fans behind a struggling team at just the right time, or simply bringing a smile to someone's face by remembering their name, your actions showed this fan base what a true Captain can do for an AHL team. We, as a hockey community, are so much better for having had you here, and we will truly miss you.
Please come back and visit us soon.