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CONSISTEN-“C”: BEN FREEMAN, CAPTAIN OF THE SWAMP RABBITS

Friday, March 8th
CONSISTEN-“C”: BEN FREEMAN, CAPTAIN OF THE SWAMP RABBITS

By Mark Binetti, Senior Director of Communications & Team Services, Broadcaster

In the realm of sports, the captain is one of the most recognizable roles on a team in the game. It’s a sign of honor, leadership, and in some cases is also a recognition of skill. Whether chosen by the coaching staff or voted on by the players, the captaincy is an honor and responsibility not taken lightly. Most sports, like basketball and football, have a co-captaincy system, with up to five or six being named on the latter’s teams, ranging from offense to defense, special teams, and more. Baseball names a captain as well, but often times they bear no insignia detailing such, and some teams don’t name a captain for years at a time.

Hockey, once again, proves its uniqueness in how its captains are recognized. They each bear a letter on the chest of their sweaters, “C” for captain, and “A” for alternate captain. Teams can choose to field no more than a “C” and two “A’s”, or no more than three “A’s” in a given game. But what makes hockey the most unique with its captaincy is, while a team may have a core group of members on their leadership group, there is only one person designated as the captain of the team. 

For the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, that honor is bestowed to Ben Freeman, who since January 19th has proudly worn a “C” to signify such respect and responsibility on the ice. Andrew Lord’s appointment of Freeman is the third under his guidance as the Head Coach and General Manager of the Swamp Rabbits. 

“I got called into a meeting with Coach Lord and Coach Mountain a day or two before we left for Charleston back in January. He announced it to me and said he’d announce it to the rest of the team in a meeting the next day,” Freeman said of his discovery of the news. “It’s such an honor. I was really excited to hear it from Lordo when he told me. I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to lead this team.”

Freeman’s tenure on the leadership group of the Swamp Rabbits started when he first wore an “A” in the 2022-23 campaign alongside Tanner Eberle and Dallas Gerads, among others. This season, he maintained his position as an alternate captain amongst a loaded cast of leaders, including Max Martin, Anthony Beauchamp, Ethan Somoza, Mark Louis, and Eberle once again reprising the leadership role. 

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“I feel like I was prepared for that role in many ways,” Freeman continued. “Even though I was wearing an ‘A’, I was acting as a sit-in captain for most of this year. Actually earning the title, though, is truly an honor. This was something I wanted, and I knew I’d do a good job if I got the opportunity. I was very present in my role as an alternate captain, so at the end of the day, I was just trying to be the best version of myself and the best alternate captain that I could be for our locker room.”

If anyone could identify a leader and a captain, it would certainly be Coach Lord, who is no stranger to leadership positions in his hockey career. Lord was the captain of the Wheeling Nailers in the 2010-11 ECHL campaign, and later joined the Cardiff Devis in the EIHL as a player-head coach for a brief time before assuming head coaching duties permanently. Since being a head coach, Lord has named three captains in Greenville, and three more in Cardiff. For the Swamp Rabbits, it’s Freeman, Frank Hora (2022-23), and Joey Haddad (2020-21), and for the Devils, it was Tyson Marsh (2014-16), Jake Morissette (2016-19), and Joey Martin (2019-20).

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“Being a captain is a huge honor and a huge commitment,” said Lord regarding the captaincy. “There’s a ton of pressure that comes with it. Ever since my first year of coaching, I’ve really felt like this should be a group effort, building cohesion and developing an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality. That ultimately starts with your leadership group. At the start of the year, we were rotating about seven or eight A’s, trying to reward everyone and cultivate that buy-in. At the end of the day, we all knew it was just time for Ben. 

“Ben has been here for three years. He knows the community, knows the fan base, and knows what the organization expects on and off the ice, which, for Spire [Sports + Entertainment] on down, it isn’t just about hockey,” Lord expanded on his third selection for the captaincy. “It’s about growing the game, being great in the community, and showing respect across the board. Ben does all of those things: he’s a great guy, great teammate, and very hard working. You can tell he has the respect of his teammates, and I truly feel he’ll grow in this role. I see him having an awesome finish to the year as our captain.”

The team captain has always been a major role of sports, especially since the dawn of hockey when one of the first rule sets created for the game spelled out the litany of obligations for the position. According to the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada’s rule set from 1886, the captain had the duty of assigning referees and goal judges, was also tasked with determining a player’s health status, and which reserves would play. Today, almost all of those roles are held by higher-level hockey executives that don’t suit up in pads and a sweater every night.

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The role of the captain in today’s hockey isn’t just as a figurehead. There are many unseen responsibilities in the locker room, and even on the ice that the captain holds. For an on-ice example, the captain, by rule, is the only person, when present on the ice, that has the right to speak to referees about interpretation of rules. The team’s alternate captains also have this same right, but anyone outside of the designated leadership group speaking out of turn can subject themselves to an unsportsmanlike conduct minor or worse. The captain also defends his team in a variety of ways, whether it’s from the officials on a questionable call, or from bullying or harassment of his teammates from the opponent. Off the ice, the captain is the voice of a team, a liaison between the coaches and the players, and arguably one of the most knowledgeable players of the game, its intricacies, and what it means to be a professional. 

In Freeman’s perspective, the role of the captain is essentially whatever the team needs it to be.

“In my opinion, it varies from team to team. I’ve always thought there’s more responsibility as a captain to communicate with players, coaches, staff. To that point, more challenging conversations need to happen as a captain versus as an alternate,” he said. “This doesn’t take away from the role of the alternate captain either. An alternate captain can do much of the same, but as a captain, you have to raise that to another level, hold yourself and others accountable, and be the best version of yourself each day you come to the rink.

“I learned a great deal from wearing the ‘A’ last season and this year, especially the expectations of what it means to be a captain. I also reflect fondly on my time in college at UConn. I owe a great deal to Mike Cavanaugh, my head coach, who taught me so much about what it means to be a leader. I was a co-captain my senior year at UConn, and an alternate as a junior, and that experience helped me for what I am today.”

While the role at UConn certainly shaped Freeman and his trajectory through hockey, it came with notable differences. As he pointed out, he was a co-captain, so it was a responsibility shouldered with teammates and not assumed just by himself. His junior year as an alternate featured a roster with 11 freshmen on it, so that added some challenges given the youth of the team. It also was a collegiate captaincy, so money, grown men, and their personalities weren’t variables to consider either.

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Freeman hasn’t missed a game since being named the captain on January 19th, skating in 21 games with the “C” on his chest. His reliably consistent play has remained a staple of his leadership, potting six goals and earning 11 points in that span along with a +3 rating. If anything, Freeman believes the captaincy only amplified his consistency on and off the ice.

“I think part of the reason I was selected is because I’m consistent, or at least I’d like to think I am,” he said. “Taking that consistency piece to another level, showing up every day, putting in extra work after practice…if anything, the appointment motivated me and made me realize how grateful I am to be where I am at. It gave me energy, increased my passion to be the best version of myself, and be consistent every day.”

Just as the role of the captain changes from team to team, so does the selection process. Some teams, the coach selects who will don the “C” or the “A’s”, while others will allow the locker room to appoint its leader. Coach Lord admits that generally across the board, when it pertains to a coach’s selection, captains are somewhat based on an emulation of their former playing days. In Freeman’s case, he aptly points out that sometimes choosing a different playing style from your own is the right way to go.

“There’s something to be said for the comfort of choosing someone that plays a similar way to how you did because it’s something you know and have an intimate familiarity with. However, that can be a trap at times, so you have to be careful. You have to realize there are so many different ways to lead,” Lord explained. “There are many ways to bring people together. You have to find the right guy for the group. There are some great similarities there between us, but there are also a lot of differences between Benny and myself, and [Coach Mountain] and Benny. That’s a good thing though. He’s the perfect fit for our group and what we need.”

Any captain in their respective walks of sports will tell you that leadership doesn’t just come overnight. There’s success and failure. There’s triumph and defeat. There is natural growth and progression, and a constant desire to learn and be better, even when things are at their very best or very worst. To that effect, the environment around a prospective captain is paramount in proper development.

Freeman is eternally grateful for his environment: his organization, teammates, and most importantly, his family.

“What makes my job, and the rest of the leadership group’s, easier is the character we have in our room. Here in Greenville, we have amazing leaders. You can really go down the line in our locker room and everyone is a leader in their own way. The culture of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, from the President to the staff and the team is really strong, so it makes the job of anyone that is deemed a leader here with the Swamp Rabbits that much easier.

“I’d have to say the most important group of people to my development and my career is my family. I’m proud to say I come from a family of people with high integrity,” he concluded. “My dad is a hard-working, honest man. My grandfather on my mom’s side created a successful business and preached treating employees well. My grandfather on my dad’s side has to be the most honest person I’ve ever met. Both of my grandmothers raised their children the right way and are outstanding people. My mom is also a great role model to me as both a hard worker and a continuous learner. She’s taught me so much on how to continue bettering myself each day. 

“My family taught me if you can acknowledge all of these great traits, there’s always room for growth, and for that, I’m forever thankful. This truly is a great honor to be named the captain of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.”

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