Sen's two-fisted salute

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Brian McGrattan's right hand helped grease the skids for Tie Domi's exit from the NHL.

McGrattan delivered a thundering knockout of the Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy -- right in Toronto early last year -- a resounding victory that clearly signaled Domi's days as a dominating force were done.

But McGrattan, the Senators enforcer, didn't gloat then and he wasn't gloating yesterday after hearing Domi had announced his scrapping days were over.

"I grew up watching him and what he did at that size, the career he had is pretty remarkable," said McGrattan after the Senators bus pulled into the Metro Centre for last night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

McGrattan was wishing yesterday he could have caught Domi in his prime, which is a bit like wishing that bus that just hit you was going faster.

How would he have done?

"I think it would have been a beauty," he said. "It would have been a good one."

McGrattan and Domi were at opposite ends of their careers when they collided last fall and now McGrattan can only hope he comes close to having the career Domi forged for himself.

After leading the league in fighting majors last season with 19 (according to hockeyfights.com), McGrattan worked during the off-season on rounding out his game.

It hasn't gone unnoticed.

'BIGGEST CHANGE'

"The biggest change in anybody is in Brian McGrattan, his skating ... he's doing things I didn't think he could last year," said Senators coach Bryan Murray.

There's a long list of guys who fought their way into the league and then made themselves into decent players, going back to John Ferguson, Chris Nilan, Randy McKay, Domi and Marty McSorley.

Murray had a chance to get McSorley when Murray was in Washington and McSorley was in Pittsburgh, but Murray turned his nose up because of McSorley's skating at the time.

But McSorley worked hard, improved his skating and wound up having a long career.

"I see Brian that way," said Murray. "He can get up and down the ice and shoot the puck well. I'm not adverse to putting him in front of the net on the power play, like I did with Chris Neil last year, if the need arises."

McGrattan, 25, showed up hungry for a bigger role with the Senators this season. He led the team in penalty minutes last year with 141 while averaging just 4:13 in ice time a game in his rookie season.

He's set his sights on improving enough to get up into the 6-8 minute range this season.

"That's the goal I set for myself this year," said the 6-foot-5, 238-lb. Hamilton native. "There was a learning curve last year and it was just great to be here. Now I want to make this a career and give myself the best chance I can by being in shape. If you just fight, you're not going to last. I can fight, but I want to show the coaches and management I can do something else."

To that end, McGrattan wants to show Murray he can be trusted not to do anything stupid -- at least not regularly, since that is part of his charm -- and be a responsible player.

Let's face it, McGrattan's job is still going to be standing up for his teammates and Murray isn't going to put a leash on him.

"I'm never going to tell a guy not do something," said Murray (part of his charm, too). "I've talked to Brian about fighting. That's not his only role."

HEAR AND THERE: Pens star Sidney Crosby had to spring for about 100 tickets for friends and family as he returned home last night. At 90 bucks a pop, that's a pricey homecoming, but Sid the Kid can afford it ... Nick Foligno, the Senators' first-round pick in June, came into camp with a reputation for having some skill and grit. He showed the latter with a good hit on Pittsburgh's Ryan Stone in the first period ... So, you're a 19-year-old defenceman playing your first NHL exhibition game and you find yourself out there defending a 5-on-3. That was the situation Thomas Kudelka found himself in last night after Ottawa defencemen Michal Barinka and Jamie Allison were both whistled off on the same play. Kudelka helped kill the 5-on-3 off, making a nice play to turn back a Crosby shot ... Veteran Denis Hamel helped his cause last night, hustling and making plays ... Too bad the Senators are playing their regular season home opener Oct. 5. It's Alexander Keith's birthday and apparently the party is pretty good here in his old stomping grounds. It starts with a concert double bill with Matt Mays and El Torpedo and the Joel Plaskett Emergency across the way in Dartmouth. Beer and quality tunes, those who like them, like them a lot.


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