Mlakar had one regret

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

"The Bald Wayne Gretzky" had a hard time stick-handling through his farewell press conference with the Senators yesterday.

Not because of tears -- he actually shed more sweat in the warm Scotiabank Place room just down from his office of 13 years -- although it also sounded like he choked back some emotion near the end of his address to the media, too.

But no, the big problem encountered by outgoing team president/CEO Roy Mlakar was in fielding the question that has not yet been satisfactorily answered by owner Eugene Melnyk or the new second in command, Cyril Leeder.

"There isn't really anything specific," Mlakar finally said -- when pressed for a 'why' -- after fumbling through something about the tremendous challenges the team faces, his role and how Melnyk "anguished" over the decision.

"It's just a young fresh approach and I respect that. I don't have a problem with it at all."

Mlakar, who said he learned that he would not be offered a another contract during a "40-minute excellent conversation" with the boss on Sunday, was equally as evasive when asked rhetorically if leaving is something he did not want to do, and how sad he'll be on June 30, his last official day on the job.

"We've made a lot of good friends here," Mlakar said. "We've called Ottawa our home. My wife (Tammy) left a significant job with the Los Angeles Lakers to come here and make a commitment to the three boards that she participates on, and we really like it here.

"But I have always been one that has said I have never worked for ownership I don't respect, and this is an excellent management team taking over."

Read into that what you will.

While it appears there will remain an untold story that lead to his departure, Mlakar will be remembered for both his charity work and as the man in charge of the organization when it enjoyed its greatest growth.

'MODEL FRANCHISE'

The Senators were 24th out of 24 teams in revenues when he took control in 1995, he reminded. They were also last in attendance.

"Now we're sixth and seventh, respectively," Mlakar said. "And (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman calls us a model franchise."

Mlakar also spoke proudly of the Senators Foundation, which is regarded as the second-largest fundraiser in the community. And he spoke fondly of the relationships he has forged with employees, both past and present.

"Roger's House, where Saturday, we celebrated my good friend Roger's passing six years ago," Mlakar said, referring to the late coach Roger Neilson. "We honoured the 39 youngsters who have passed away since we built that incredible facility, by putting stars up on the wall with their names. It was great to speak to over 300 friends and families of those children on Saturday.

"And it would be fitting that my buddy Rog, who would have been 75 yesterday, and probably would be saying, 'Crap Roy, now you're leaving and it's my stinkin' birthday. Who's gonna buy me dinner?' "

Mlakar said he was most proud of how a relatively inexperienced front office has developed into a well-groomed operation.

"If I had a regret, it's 2007," he said. "I wish we would have won the Stanley Cup. But I think there's probably a couple of million people who do, too."

He recalled arriving at the airport after the final trip to Anaheim that spring, and the crowd that was there waiting for the team.

He remembered how he and Daniel Alfredsson looked at each other in awe.

"The two of us just started to tear up and said, 'Are you kidding me?' " Mlakar said. "And then when we got out of the airport, the line of people applauding and beeping horns was all the way past the tunnel, on to Hunt Club.

"So this city has a tremendous passion and I'll miss that, but I know the legacy will continue here as being a great franchise."

3 WEEKS BECAME 13 YEARS

Mlakar said he hasn't given much thought to what he'll do next.

"I've only had 48 hours to think about it," he said. "I think I've had the resilience before, to bounce back quickly. I'm certainly looking forward to staying in sports. We'll see what comes up in the National Hockey League, for sure.

"When I arrived here in 1995 to work for the Ogden Corp. and then the Senators, I was told it would be three weeks. It turned out to be 13 years, when we built the Palladium, that Tammy and I have called Ottawa our home.

"We missed the playoffs my first year as a consultant and we've never looked back. It's been a great run, up until this year, when we had a rocky road, but I am confident that we will be back on top again, with this great management team going forward.

"My job's now done."

A great salesman and smooth stick-handler, it was actually well done by The Bald Wayne Gretzky.


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