Vermette meets true 'hero'

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

More significant than any flash of his brilliance on the ice is a move Antoine Vermette made away from the rink the other day.

Asked for a favour by his friend Les Bell (father of Leafs defenceman Brendan Bell), Vermette happily obliged. All it entailed was visiting the home of Jodi Graham, a 25-year-old woman who suffered a debilitating brain injury in a car accident last spring.

The Graham family is a pillar of the Ottawa West hockey community and Vermette is Jodi's favourite player. For all the pleasure the social call gave her, it also moved her guest.

"She really is an inspiration," Vermette, who brought along a souvenir stick, said yesterday. "She's going through stuff most of us don't have to go through and she's doing great, she's really improving. She can see me as something special, as a hero, but in fact she's the hero. We can all learn from a person like her."

STARTS AND STOPS: On the morning of his 100th NHL game, Brian McGrattan made a bold prediction. "I'm getting my first tonight," said the Senators tough guy, who has never before been goal-less this side of Christmas. "And it's going to be a good one, too. Not a (crappy) one." That it would have to come on the exceptional Roberto Luongo would be no huge deal for McGrattan, whose very first NHL marker came against Martin Brodeur. Alas, McGrattan made another promise he forgot to keep when asked what it meant to him to be reaching the century-mark in games played. "I'm going to ride my stick down the middle of the ice (in celebration)," he said. Former Canuck stick-riders Tiger Williams and Cliff Ronning would have been proud ... Not to be overlooked is the help Senators defencemen are giving Ray Emery this season. Heading into last night's action, three of them were among the Top 29 shot blockers in the 30-team NHL: League leader Anton Volchenkov, Andrej Meszaros (20th) and Chris Phillips (29th). Phillips made a big, sprawling save off a Matt Cooke backhander in the first period last night.

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM...: With former Senators coaches Rick Bowness and Alain Vigneault back in town, Daniel Alfredsson harkened back to the good/bad old days following the morning skate. He also had a chuckle remembering Dave "Sparky" Allison, who succeeded Bowness as coach, and a night Ottawa upset the Blackhawks in Chicago. "Sparky gave us $200 and said, 'Go have some beers, boys,' remembered Alfredsson. Two hundred bucks each? "No, for the whole team." American suds have always been cheaper, but that'd barely buy a round, would it? ... To welcome back Lyndon Slewidge in his first game since a surgical procedure, fans gave the Ottawa anthem singer a standing ovation. Of course, they were getting up anyway ... Volchenkov drew admiration from his teammates when he blocked a shot with his face a couple of weeks ago. Last night, he pulled Patrick Eaves into the club with him. A-Train's second-period slapper from centre ice -- intended to go deep into Vancouver territory -- instead nailed Eaves in the head, sending him to the dressing room.

BETWEEN PERIODS: If the hottest two teams in the NHL today are the hottest two teams in the NHL five months from now, we'll have the first all-Canadian Stanley Cup final since 1989. It'll be "New Jersey West," as Bryan Murray referred to the Canucks yesterday morning, and "New Jersey East," as broadcaster John Garrett said that must mean the Senators are. How about Ottawa and Vancouver as the last two teams standing, Wade Redden? "It'd be nice," said the Senators star. "I wouldn't bet against anything these days." ... Redden was hoping Alfredsson would extend the four-game, game-winning goal streak he rode into last night's showdown -- and do it early. "If he comes out and scores in the first minute," Redden said, "we might as well hit the showers." ... At his hustlin' and hittin' best last night was winger Christoph Schubert. At one point in the first, The Shoe and Eaves collaborated to drive Daniel Sedin into the boards so hard it might have made the twin see double.

BOTTOM SHELF: Asked yesterday morning by an esteemed member of the media if he could be described as "old school", Dany Heatley was sharp with his reply. "I don't know," he said, "it's your job to stereotype players." .... Asked if his teammates had started calling him Newsy -- in light of the fact former NHL great Newsy Lalonde set the record for most consecutive game-winning goals (with five) more than eight decades ago, Alfredsson smiled and shook his head. "No," he said, "but that's a cool name." ... Rory Fitzpatrick won't be going to the all-star game, but he did get his first goal of the season last night. It wasn't an all-star effort either, as from the Cheapseats, his soft shot appeared to deflect and flutter past Emery, who probably should have had it. Suddenly, either the Canucks fans found the courage to cheer louder or some Ottawa supporters decided to hop onto a different bandwagon.


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