Senators family ready to welcome back Neil

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Chris Neil will be leaving his family in Flesherton and returning to another family here in Ottawa.

The Senators winger, trying to cope with the tragic loss of his 57-year-old mother Bonnie in a car accident last Tuesday, is expected to rejoin the Senators in time for practice this morning.

"We've all been through this," said Senators centre Bryan Smolinski. "I know it's going to be tough for him to come back, but he'll be among family in this dressing room as well. We all care about him.

"Everybody in this room is going to be there to support him. We're all going to try to help him get through this. A lot of guys in this room have lost loved ones and they know what he is going through right now."

Neil was en route to the nation's capital from his Flesherton home yesterday, anxious to get back to work and begin dealing with life after this unexpected death.

The 26-year-old Neil has been out of the lineup for three games and could return as early as tomorrow against the Canadiens.

He has kept in close contact with teammate Mike Fisher since learning of the death.

And while not all the players and staff were able to attend the funeral Saturday because of a home game against Boston, owner Eugene Melnyk offered up one his charter jets so some members of the team could attend.

"I spoke with Chris and his father Barry and they both feel its in his best interests to get back to playing," said Neil's agent Todd Reynolds last night. "I know he wants to get right back at it.

"I know he's really appreciated everything that everybody in the organization has done for him and his family. He has had a lot of support. It's going to be tough for him. There's going to be a lot of dark hours, but he's a strong individual."

Many of the players haven't seen Neil since he left the hotel lobby on Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C., when the Senators were preparing to face the Carolina Hurricanes.

But they are all aware of what he's been through and understand how tough the loss of a family member can be.

"I know this was really tough for all of us in this room when we heard the news because we feel for Chris and we know what a tight family he has," said Ottawa defenceman Brian Pothier.

"She was just (in Ottawa) not long ago. When he comes back, it will be nice to be able to support him. You need that support from your friends in times like these."

NOTEWORTHY: The line of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza continues to roll after posting a 10-point night in the club's 4-2 win over the Bruins. Alfredsson said he felt they had struggled for a couple of games and had to get back on track. "We weren't playing as well as we could," said Alfredsson. "We've started to click again and that's a good thing. We're playing with a lot of confidence and we feel good." ... Heatley, who has points in 21 straight games, can tie an NHL record set by Wayne Gretzky when the Senators visit Boston on Thursday. Gretzky registered a point in his first 23 games with a new team -- the 1988-89 Los Angeles Kings. First, however, Heatley has to get a point against the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow at the Corel Centre ... Senators C Antoine Vermette gave a fan on Long Island an old stick Friday after security took away the one that flew into the stands at the Nassau County Coliseum. "I felt bad when they took it back and I heard the fans booing so I sent another one up there," said Vermette. "I needed that one." ... With Neil's return, the Senators will likely send rookie Patrick Eaves back to Binghamton ... The 65 Roses Sports Club and Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will host their annual dinner gala tonight at 5:30 at the Congress Centre. CTV's Max Keeping will be the emcee for the evening, which will feature special presentations to Senators president/CEO Roy Mlakar and defenceman Wade Redden.


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