Nine months after cheering him and his mates to the top of the junior hockey world, Ottawa fans will be the first to see what the NHL’s Next One looks like in his pro team’s road sweater.
The release of the league’s 2009-10 schedule yesterday showed the Senators will play their inaugural home game Thursday, Oct. 8 against the Islanders who, barring unforeseen circumstances, should have the freshly signed John Tavares in their lineup.
Tavares, who led Canada’s under-20 squad to a world championship at Scotiabank Place in January and was the top pick in last month’s draft, will begin his NHL career Oct. 3 when the Isles host Sidney Crosby and the Stanley Cup-champion Penguins.
On that same Saturday, the Senators will dust off their act on Broadway with a visit to Madison Square Garden, where they’ll face the Rangers.
They’ll then travel to Toronto for a game against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Oct. 6 before their curtain-opener at Scotiabank Place.
Team president Cyril Leeder said playing the first two games of the season on the road will only help build the anticipation and excitement for fans chomping at the bit to get their first live glance of Alex Kovalev in Ottawa colours.
“I think it’s a good schedule,” said Leeder. “With the Olympic break in there, we were most concerned with a bunching-up of games, but the guys with the league have done a pretty good job of spreading out games as best they can.”
The Senators will not play from Feb. 14-March 2 during the Olympics in Vancouver. Despite that schedule interruption, the Senators will have six fewer back-to-back games next season.
Leeder’s only complaint is the fact that 12 of the Senators’ 19 games after the break are on the road. It’s 14 of the last 21, including the two games before the Olympics.
Only 17 of their final 41 games are at home.
“During that stretch, from a hockey perspective, you’d like to be as balanced as you can be,” he said of the schedule’s back-end. “That’s not the case.”
Thirteen of the Senators’ home games are on Saturdays, while 11 more will fall on Thursdays and 10 on Tuesdays. The only day they won’t play at home is Fridays, which should make the 67’s happy.
November is the Senators’ busiest month at home with nine of 12 games played here.
Other schedule highlights for 2009-10 include:
n The Senators first host the Cup champs Oct. 12.
n Ottawa will host the Canadiens at 2 p.m. on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada Jan. 30.
n The Senators’ two longest road trips are from Nov. 28-Dec. 6 (nine days) and Jan. 10-18 (eight days).
While admitting it would be nice to see the Senators in an outdoor classic — Boston will host Philadelphia at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day this time — Leeder said the organization is more focused on the 2012 all-star game.
There will be no all-star game next season because of the Olympics, and Phoenix has already been awarded the showcase in 2011.
“We would like to do it in 2012 if we could,” said Leeder. “The league said we’d get full consideration.”
Despite speculation that the Dany Heatley saga is generally bad for business, Leeder said that season-ticket numbers are already up to 8,000, with 10,000 set as the goal.
He added that about 1,500 season tickets have been sold since May 1 — including 350 season since Ottawa signed Kovalev last week.