'Great to be back'

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

They're back.

The Senators flocked to virtually every part of the hockey world last year while the NHL and its players' association duked it out over a new collective bargaining agreement.

In the interim, Senators players went to places like Sweden, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and even Binghamton, N.Y. But what they really wanted to do was come back.

"It's just great to be back with the guys and be back in the dressing room. This is a lot better than playing in the senior league with my dad and a bunch of his buddies," said Senators winger Chris Neil, who finished the season last year with Binghamton in the AHL.

It has been almost 18 months since we last saw the Senators get eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs and plenty has changed.

"It's great to be back playing hockey again," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson recently. "I'm really looking forward to that first game at the Corel Centre (Oct. 8 against Buffalo). That is something that is going to be a lot of fun."

And when Alfredsson does take to the ice on opening night this season, there will be plenty of new faces around him.

Gone is long-time centre Radek Bonk, as is local boy Todd White, disgruntled winger Marian Hossa, goalie Patrick Lalime and veteran defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn.

Coach Jacques Martin, fired by the team after that playoff loss to the Leafs, has since taken his act to the Florida Panthers.

But with all the changes made over the last several months, there is a sense of excitement around the dressing room.

GM John Muckler is determined to win a Stanley Cup and he believes he has taken this team in the right direction -- starting with goalie Dominik Hasek.

The Senators signed Hasek on July, 6, 2004, but never got a chance to see him play last season. He came to camp in good shape and hasn't had any trouble with his surgically repaired groin, which is a good sign.

Then, Muckler sent Hossa to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for winger Dany Heatley, who has looked excellent in training camp, and veteran defenceman Greg de Vries.

Centre Jason Spezza has been installed as the No. 1 centre while the likes of Alfredsson, Martin Havlat, Bryan Smolinski, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov are back to chase the title.

"The fans here should be excited because we have a lot to be excited about," said Muckler.

"We decided to make changes because we felt we had to make changes. I feel confident with the guys we've got coming back and the people we've been able to add, we've got the right people in place here to get the job done."


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