World of difference this Yuletide

BRUCE GARRIOCH, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

That hope seems strange for NHL players at this time of year. But if there was one small positive about the lockout hitting its 100th day yesterday, it was the fact many players enjoyed a rare chance to share the holiday with their families. "I haven't been home for Christmas in nine years," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who gathered around the tree yesterday in Goteborg, Sweden with wife Bibbi Bachman and infant son Hugo. "I'm really looking forward to just having a nice Christmas and spending the time relaxing."

Usually, Christmas is a short stop on the wild roller-coaster ride that is the NHL season. It's not unusual for the Senators to play at home Dec. 23, then take a short flight to Buffalo today for a Boxing Day game tonight.

Not this year, though, and that's not all bad.

Normally, Senators players would have invited their family and friends to Ottawa for the holidays. Defenceman Wade Redden, for instance, would have played host to parents Gord and Pat from Lloydminster, Sask.

Instead, Redden planned to travel west to savour a Christmas turkey in Lloydminster for the first time in 12 years.

"It's going to be nice to be there, but it's going to be different as well,'' he said. ''You're kind of used to having everybody around in Ottawa, having a couple of days break and then getting back into the grind of playing.''

The lockout has changed all that.

"Right now, the schedule kind of seems like it's the end of the summer and you're just waiting for the season to start,'' Redden said. ''It's a little different, there's no question about it. Obviously, you'd like to get back to playing."

Perhaps defenceman Chris Phillips will remember this Christmas the most among the Senators. Phillips, with wife Erin and children Ben and Zoe, celebrated it in Gavle, Sweden, where he's been playing for the last two months.

On Christmas Eve, Erin followed Swedish tradition by cooking a ham for dinner at their two-bedroom apartment.

However, they did not bow to the European tradition of opening their gifts on Dec. 24 -- instead, they waited until Christmas morning to celebrate Santa's arrival, then had dinner with former Senators player Andreas Dackell at his home last night.

'PRETTY BIG DEAL'

"I don't want to make Christmas seem small in North America, but one thing you notice over here is Christmas is a pretty big deal," said Phillips. "There's lights all over the city and there's decorations everywhere. They really do Christmas right over here. No question.

"Erin and I have tried to make this something because we don't know if we're going to ever get this chance to celebrate Christmas like this again. This is unique for us. We're trying to buy each other Swedish gifts and things that we're going to remember this experience by."

In Trencin, Slovakia, Senators winger Marian Hossa was home with his family -- including brother Marcel, who is a prospect with the Montreal Canadiens -- before catching an afternoon flight back to Sweden where he's been playing with Mora.

"It's nice to be home for Christmas. I don't think I've had this chance in a long time,'' Hossa said. ''We usually just spend Christmas Eve opening gifts, have a big meal, and then we've got to get back to Sweden so we can be ready to play (today)."

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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