Senators face first adversity of season

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

You knew it couldn't keep going, not like that.

Not that smoothly, not making it look as easy as they have most nights.

The Senators are running into their first real adversity this season, starting with real life poking through the velvet bubble that usually insulates the NHL world.

The thoughts of players, coaches and management remain with winger Chris Neil who lost his mom, Bonnie, in a car accident Tuesday.

There are challenges on the ice, as well, like not having Neil, winger Martin Havlat or defenceman Wade Redden for tomorrow's meeting with the New York Islanders.

GAMES DON'T STOP

They pale in comparison to Neil's situation, but the games don't stop; they keep coming.

Those physical injuries will heal in a week or so.

The hurt Neil feels will take a lot longer.

He can find contentment in the knowledge he has a large extended family in the Senators' dressing room upon which to lean.

"These kids have grown up together. You build bonds when you practise and travel and live together, win and lose together," said Senators coach Bryan Murray.

"Athletes tend to have that kind of attachment to each other and maybe hockey more than others because they really start young in this business. They become brothers, really."

The Senators had Neil's sweater hanging in his stall when they went out and beat the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, just hours after finding out the terrible news.

Murray thinks the death of a parent hits hard in a hockey dressing room, compared to most workplaces, because parents of hockey players, in particular, played such huge roles in helping their kids get where they are.

"We all owe an awful lot to our parents because they are the ones who take us to the arenas in the morning. I'm sure there wouldn't be many players in that room that haven't had their mothers help them in some way, driving them early in the morning or doing something for them at the end of a minor hockey game," he said.

"The bonds do get deeper than in a lot of other activities, there's no question."

After a very quiet bus ride to the rink Tuesday, Murray worried about the emotional state of his team vs. Carolina.

But the Senators pulled out a win, led by Mike Fisher, Neil's closest friend on the team (housemates for Neil's first three years here).

"It kind of breaks your heart," said Fisher yesterday, who was with Neil when Murray and Senators GM John Muckler broke the news to Neil in Muckler's hotel suite in Carolina.

"She was the kind of person who would do anything for you. She was so proud of what Chris has done and all her boys.

"My mom's the same kind of lady. It's tough to see what Chris is going through. I can't imagine it.

"I know he's going to get a lot of support here. He's got a lot of good friends and he's a big part of this team."

The Senators showed some character in the Carolina game, blowing a couple of leads, but finding a way to win on a goal by Jason Spezza and some goaltending from Dominik Hasek down the stretch.

Murray liked what his team revealed in that game.

"We've been cruising along and some nights when you're ahead 4-1, it's not hard to be a good player," he said. "I want to find out what they're like when it's 3-3 in the third period and you really have to put your nose to it and not give anything up. Dominik shuts the door, our defence really tightens up and we end up finding a way to score a goal. Those are the games that you need. They're not pretty some nights, but those are the games you need to build the fabric of your team in tough situations."

HEAR AND THERE: Hasek will get the start against the Islanders tomorrow afternoon ... Senators defenceman-turned-winger Christoph Schubert's parents are on a cruise and got the call at 4 a.m. from their son telling them he had scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night. "My dad was pretty pumped," he said. After filling Neil's spot on the roster Tuesday, Schubert will be back on the blue line tomorrow ... Denis Hamel skated with Fisher in the middle and Vaclav Varada on the right side yesterday at practice. With Bryan Smolinski back in the middle, Antoine Vermette shifted to wing with Peter Schaefer on the other side.


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