‘Thank God Alfie is back’

Don Brennan

, Last Updated: 12:49 PM ET

BUFFALO — Chris Phillips had multiple shoes to fill while the Senators were without their captain.

Baby-sitting the ‘C’ when Daniel Alfredsson was nursing a hip injury meant he had more media hanging around his dressing room stall than usual. It meant more responsibilities, more interview requests, more answering for his teammates and yes, even more opportunities for his words to get a little twisted.

All the while, he had to live up to the on-ice demands of being the stable, veteran defenceman on the team by himself, as Wade Redden’s been out, too.

Anyway, Phillips wasn’t crazy about a headline that implied he had accused his teammates of “quitting” in Thursday’s 6-0 loss to Nashville. The writer of the story also dropped the ‘Q’ bomb, even though what Phillips actually said was the Senators were “putting our heads down and just trying to let the time go by (so the game would be over).”

Still not a good thing, but it’s also not exactly quitting, either. We’re talking a fine line here. The desire to have the pounding you are taking over and done with is natural when you realize there’s no chance you’re getting up from it. Quitting is a serious character flaw. Nobody wants a quitter on their team.

“It’s a pretty bold word,” Phillips said after yesterday’s morning skate.

About then, more media entered the visitor’s dressing room and were headed toward No. 4’s stall when the horde started to veer towards the other end of the room.

“Thank God Alfie is back!” a beaming Phillips declared to much laughter.

Speaking of captains and the shoes they fill ... the CBC’s Mark Lee wondered about the number of pairs of skates Alfredsson goes through in a season. Two or three, maybe?

“More like 25 pairs,” said Alfredsson, who had teammate Chris Kelly’s name on the bottom of the skates he wore at HSBC Arena ice last night.

Why Kelly? “Because he’s my idol,” Alfredsson joked.

Actually, Alfredsson was wearing Kelly’s skates because he likes their cut.

“For a hockey player, the most important piece of equipment is the skates,” said Alfredsson. “Sticks you can cut and shape the way you want. Not so with skates.”

At least Phillips didn’t have to fill all those boots, too.

STARTS AND STOPS: Sabres coach Lindy Ruff thinks the Senators did the right thing in trading Martin Havlat. Of course, his reasoning is also a little selfish. “Havlat was a guy who killed us,” Ruff said. “I was glad to see him go.” ... One of the refs doing last night’s game, Justin St. Pierre, who was also working the night Peter Schaefer waved a towel on his stick in mock surrender. Wonder if Schaefer, who is still battling a severe case of pinkeye, found an opportunity to whisper “now I know what it’s like not to be able to see very good, too.” ... Clever is the fan who held up the sign “Soup’s On” after former 67’s star Brian Campbell blasted the point shot that was deflected by Jochen Hecht for the Sabres’ first goal.

BETWEEN PERIODS: With Daniel Briere penning a column every other week in Le Droit, Dany Heatley was teasing ghost writer “Sleepy SlySt-Laurent about his allegiances. “Stay at Danny B.’s house last night, Sly?” Heatley said to St-Laurent, whose been covering the Senators for four years. “He must have built a guest room for you, with that big contract he signed.” Sly was quick and sharp with his response. “He’s actually building a guest house,” he told Heatley. “It should be done in June. I’m staying in it when I’m here to cover the Stanley Cup finals.” With that, Heatley declared Sly “the worst home- town writer in the league.” Probably didn’t realize how big of a compliment that was, either ... It’s neat to hear the growing roar of anticipation and excitement that grows through the crowd when Maxim Afinogenov takes off on a rush up the ice. Just like the days when Gilbert Perreault similarly thrilled ‘em at Memorial Auditorium back in the ‘70’s, Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason points out. Wonder if Afinogenov will wind up doing his  Elvis impersonation on the video scoreboard after Sabres wins when he retires, like Perreault does now?

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM..: Senators colour man Gord “Dusty” Wilson was watching Phillips stare at the blade of his stick after working on it yesterday morning. “There’s two in that stick,” Wilson said to a friend, meaning Phillips was going to score a pair of goals against the Sabres. Phillips, meanwhile, wasn’t thinking two. “I’m thinking too,” he said, “much. I took too much off the blade.” ... Bryan Murray was asked about the return to the lineup of Alfredsson and Schaefer yesterday morning. “It puts people more in the role they should be playing,” he said. Through two periods, at least last night, the fourth line of Dean McAmmond, Denis Hamel and Brian McGrattan didn’t see a shift.

BACKHANDERS: The sales of Sabres merchandise is up 1,000%, reports have indicated. Sabres-mania is also evident outside HSBC Arena early on game day mornings, as players leaving the skate are sent home for a bite and nap by wild shrieking and cheering from the fans who have waited in the parking lot just to get a glimpse, and perhaps an autograph, from their heroes. The rock star treatment is good to see in a town where the NHL was dying a slow death only a few short years ago ... Good collection of fans from across the border were here and up high in the cheapseats for this one. Their enthusiasm in singing the national anthem and taunting of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was impressive — if not also a little dangerous.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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