Being a captain is more than just wearing a letter on your jersey, which is something Shawn Element knows quite well.
The 20-year-old was the captain of a young Acadie-Bathurst Titan team last season, prior to being traded to the Cape Breton Eagles during the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s winter trade period in December.
With plenty of leadership skills both on and off the ice, Element’s experience will be looked upon this year as the Victoriaville, Que., native will once again be tasked with the challenge of leading a young team, this time in Cape Breton.
“My goal is to lead the younger guys in the way Derek Gentile did last year,” said Element. “Derek did a really good job leading the guys and I want to keep on going in that direction.”
Element will be the 26th captain in Eagles history, behind players like Daniel Payette, Trevor Ettinger, Keven Cloutier, Jean-Philippe Côté, James Sheppard and Chris Culligan to name a few.
“I want to be able to leave a legacy for the younger guys by showing them my leadership, my work ethic and the person I am in the room — we have a really good leadership core on the team.”
The forward found his leadership skills during his time with the Trois-Rivières Estacades of the Quebec Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League when he realized he had more to offer than just his all-round game.
“I’m the guy who’s always talking in the dressing room and also a guy who likes to be funny at times,” laughed Element. “I really felt during my midget career I was able to improve my skillset and being a leader just came with the type of person I was and wanted to be for my teammates.”
Element was drafted in the first round, No. 9 overall, by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in 2009. As a 16-year-old, Element said he looked to former Drakkar captain Samuel Thibault for guidance.
“He was a great person both on and off the ice and his work ethic was amazing,” said Element. “I learned a lot from him and to this day I think he’s the best captain I ever had in the league.”
Eagles head coach Jake Grimes said Element is a natural leader in many different ways.
“He can be vocal and get the guys going, he can work with young players and teach them different parts of the game and he’s probably the toughest player in the league, not to mention he can be a 40-goal scorer,” said the Eagles' second-year bench boss. “He brings a lot to the table as a leader on our team and we’re happy to have him be our captain this season.”
On the ice, Element can do anything the Eagles coaching staff ask of him. He’s proven he can produce offensively, play a physical style of game and be responsible in the defensive zone, making his presence in the team’s lineup quite valuable.
“I’m going to do my best and keep doing what I’ve done in the past and keep improving myself in those situations,” said Element. “I want to win the league award as being the best defensive forward this year and be an overall better player both on and off the ice.”
Despite his attributes, Element has never received the credit he deserves in terms of potentially advancing his career at a professional level.
After not being selected at the NHL draft, Element was invited to attend the Chicago Blackhawks rookie camp in September 2019. Unfortunately, he never received the paperwork required from the Blackhawks and never did attend the camp. Although disappointed, he used the heartbreak as motivation.
Last season, Element had his best offensive year in the league, finishing the campaign with 38 goals and 62 points — 18 of those markers coming during the second half — with a total of 244 shots on goal.
“I wanted to show Chicago that they made a big mistake by forgetting to send me the paperwork,” said Element in a January interview with the Cape Breton Post. “I wanted to show everyone that someone should have drafted me when I was available.”
Element, who committed to return to Cape Breton well before the league’s entry draft in June, admits there's a big difference when it comes to comparing last year’s team to this year’s club.
“It’s a new group, I see some guys who want to learn and work hard and make good plays and that’s really positive,” said Element. “We want to win no matter what and that’s what I love about this team, we have a lot of character and I see it already.”
Element will have the ‘C’ on his jersey for the first time as an Eagle Friday when Cape Breton opens the 2020-21 regular season against the Halifax Mooseheads. Game time is 7 p.m. at Centre 200 in Sydney.
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