Neil can't wait to test Nordic track

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

For a Flesherton farm boy, it will be a road trip unlike any other.

When Chris Neil climbed aboard a NHL-booked charter headed for Gothenburg late last night, it marked not only the first time he was travelling to Sweden but also his first flight to Europe, period.

Quite likely he is the only non-rookie on the Senators who could lay that claim.

"It's a great opportunity to see the world," said an enthused Neil, who knows about Sweden only what teammate Daniel Alfredsson has told him. "From listening to Alfie, it's God's Country over there."

Neil and friends are also anxious to see the reception the Senators captain gets in his homeland.

"He's the mayor of Ottawa," said Neil. "I can't wait to see how they treat him over there."

The Senators will have a couple of days to get acclimatized to their new surroundings before playing Alfredsson's old Frolunda team in an exhibition game Thursday, then open the NHL regular season with back-to-back weekend games against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coach Craig Hartsburg is especially looking forward to the preparation time leading up to the tussles with the team that unceremoniously bumped Ottawa from the playoffs five-plus months ago.

"It's certainly going to be an exciting trip," said Hartsburg. "It'll give us a chance get some practice time. We really haven't had the whole team together for a practice. We've had guys who have been hurt, and we've played ... so it'll be good for us.

"It'll give us quality time (to do) power-play stuff ... everything that we really need right now."

Having such an opportunity to hang out together off the ice is also important in the development of the squad, says Neil.

"You get over there and your family is back here ... you're definitely going to miss them, but you've got to go over there with your other family and do some bonding," he said. "You've got the guys all going out for dinner and doing some team events, you're going back to the hotel together ... it's a good way to start."

And when they get back, they'll actually have a record. Two-and-oh is the goal, 1-1 would be satisfactory, 0-2 raises more questions.

THE BEAT GOES ON

You would have felt good for 39-year-old Luke Richardson as he left the rink Saturday night with his family and a contract after attending camp on a tryout, especially knowing all the hard work he put into reaching the moment. Never a doubt, right Luke. "Oh, I don't know about that," Richardson said with a laugh. "I didn't pack yet (for Sweden), let's just say that." Richardson, who wants to coach some day, should be a valuable asset in the advice he can lend, especially to young Senators Ds Brian Lee and Alexandre Picard. But his primary focus is helping the team on the ice whenever he gets the chance. "I just want to play as long as I can," said the former Ottawa West Golden Knight, who is embarking on his 21st season in the NHL. "When that's gone, it's gone. I'm very grateful for the opportunity right now. I think that's another key point for me, too. When you're younger, you don't realize every day in this league is that valuable and precious. I think that at this point in my career, you know it is, especially when you have to work on a tryout to get a job."

ZACK'LL BE BACK

Raise your hand all those who picked 19-year-old WHL product Zack Smith in the Who Will Be The Last Senator Cut pool. Hmmm. Nobody, eh? Not even Bryan Murray. "He was the most surprising guy for me overall," the Senators GM said late Saturday night, moments after telling Smith he'd be starting the season in Binghamton. "A young guy, a third-round pick, his first camp, and he comes in and to be as impressive as he was ... I see a real good future for him."

THIS AND THAT

The way the Senators played in a 3-1 victory over Montreal on Saturday at least relieved some of the heat they were getting for their embarrassing display at the Bell Centre the night before, a 5-0 loss in which their new coach chastised them for not competing nearly hard enough. "We've tried to get better each day," Dany Heatley said before leaving for Sweden. "All of our games over here in the pre-season haven't been that great, but I think we've played more better than worse. We've got a big week over there, a few practices, one more game and then we're at it. So we've got to have a good plane ride over and a good week." ... Never accuse G Martin Gerber of not having a sense of humour. After accosting a reporter over a trade rumour story that included his name in the off-season, Gerber told the hack: "You ruined my girlfriend's vacation." When the reporter joked that he'd make it up by sending her flowers, Gerber shook his head and grinned: "There aren't enough flowers," he said.


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