Of Rats and men

SHANE ROSS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

There was a moment during the Senators luncheon panel yesterday when Paul Holmgren's battle-scarred nose started to ache. Someone had mentioned the name Ken Linseman, comparing him with modern-day agitators Steve Downie, who plays for Holmgren's Flyers, and Ottawa newcomer Jarkko Ruutu.

No, Linseman didn't punch Holmgren in the nose when they were linemates on the Flyers from 1978-82.

"I got punched in the nose just standing next to him," said Holmgren, the Flyers GM who was in Ottawa for last night's exhibition game against the Senators.

It was one of the many one-liners and stories that drew laughs from the 100 or so people who attended the luncheon in the Red Room at Scotiabank Place, which featured a question-and-answer session with panelists Brian Kilrea, legendary coach of the 67's, Senators coach Craig Hartsburg and Senators defenceman Alexandre Picard, a Gatineau native who was acquired by Ottawa in a trade with the Lightning on Aug. 29.

WEASEL ERA?

One of the questions from the audience was, with Ruutu, Downie and others of their ilk, will this become known as the era of the weasel in the NHL?

No, said Holmgren, agitators have been around since, well, Linseman. "Just hearing his name, my nose started to hurt," he said. But like "The Rat," he added, Downie will have a successful career in the NHL "because of his intelligence on the ice."

Hartsburg agreed.

"I've coached Steve Downie at the world junior tournament and Ruutu here for a couple of exhibition games --and this sound kind of crazy -- but both of them are very intelligent hockey players," he said. "Just being around Ruutu, he knows the game so well, he understands how he has to play position-wise, but he also understands how he can make an impact on the game, and that is getting people off their game. Steve Downie's the same way. He played in the world junior tournament two years in a row and was a big part of both teams that won the gold medal because he's a good player but he played on that edge. You love them when they're on your team and you hate to play against them, and I'm certainly happy to have Ruutu."

Here are a few other questions and answers from the luncheon, which the Senators hope to hold once a month.

- To Hartsburg: Has it been a big adjustment going from coaching junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie to the NHL?

"The game is the same. I used to tell the kids in the Soo I'm going to try to teach you to act like a pro, but I'm not going to treat you like a pro. At (the NHL) level, they're professionals so they know how to act on and off the ice hopefully.

- To Kilrea: Who are the best junior players you've ever coached?

"I had the pleasure of coaching against Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros, and it was a thrill to watch them and they were always gentlemen in our league. But the two best players I've coached were my first and second year here, Bobby Smith and Doug Wilson. Denis Potvin was the best 67 of all-time, but he was gone before I got here."

- To Hartsburg and Holmgren: Which player other than Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin would you like to have on your roster?

Hartsburg: "Dany Heatley, (Jason) Spezza, (Daniel) Alfredsson." (Laughter)

Holmgren: "Dany Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson." (More laughter)

- To all panelists: Which team do you think most improved its roster this season?

Hartsburg: "If you listen to all the experts, Montreal is a favourite, and Pittsburgh."

Picard: "Detroit made a good acquisition by signing Ty Conklin to a pretty cheap contract."

Holmgren: "I don't really care about the West, but in the East I think Ottawa is going to have a good team, Montreal will be good again and Pittsburgh, obviously, because their two big guns are a year older and probably will be a year better."

Kilrea: "I'm just a fan cheering for the Senators."

- To Hartsburg: Who will be quarterbacking the Senators power play this year?

"It's a work in progress. (Last night it was) Brendan Bell and Filip Kuba. Daniel Alfredsson has played very well there, but right now we're going to focus on him up front and see if we can find a solution on the back end."

- To Hartsburg: Did Ray Emery show up for practice this morning?

"I didn't talk to anybody in Russia so I don't know."

- To Holmgren: Isn't it a little dangerous to name a 23-year-old, Mike Richards, as the captain of the Flyers?

"We spent a lot of time not only with Mike Richards but with other players on the team and he's clearly the player his teammates thought of for the role of captain. Is it dangerous? I don't believe so. I think Mike is of very strong character, certainly one of our better players now at a young age and he's not only a player the young players on our team look up to, but he's a guy the older players look up to and lean on for advice and leadership. He's our leader, there's no question about it."

- To Picard: Did Antoine Vermette offer to take you out for steak now that you're here and he only has to do half of the French interviews?

"He seems a little bit relieved. We joked about it, but some guys were saying he's pissed off at me because he likes the attention. I don't know what side of the story to believe."


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