Matt Carkner was the toast of the town in Winchester yesterday.
The Senators defenceman gave his parents Dennis and Kathy, who celebrated their wedding anniversary on Tuesday, a special gift by delivering the news he'll start the NHL season with his hometown team Saturday against the New York Rangers.
The 28-year-old, a former member of the Winchester Jr. B Hawks, has bounced around the minors for years, but hard work and perseverance paid off for Carkner when he was told by coach Cory Clouston he’ll start the season here after Brian Lee was sent to the minors.
“It’s a great feeling just being here and being able to prove myself throughout training camp. I started training camp as a forward and finished as a defenceman, so you never know what’s going to happen,” said Carkner, who spent last year with the club’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
“I just kept working hard and trying to prove myself. It was nice for my family who was at me every two seconds and wondering what was going on.”
The Senators want Carkner’s physical presence. He was the only surprise to make the 23-man roster — which includes injured F Jesse Winchester (knee) — because centre Peter Regin and defencemen Erik Karlsson were both considered strong candidates going into camp last month.
Clouston warned that Carkner, Regin and Karlsson will be watched closely.
“It’s not like a midget or junior team. Every day they have to establish or re-establish themselves,” said Clouston. “Their play up here will depend on how their performance is on the ice and how long they stay up here. It could be for a week. It could be a year. Anywhere in between there is a possibility as well. By no means should they think that they can have a letup or relax. Each day they are being re-evaluated.”
Still, they were all breathing a sigh of relief.
“I made the first game at least. I still know that I have to prove myself every game,” said Regin, 23, selected by the Senators in the third round of the 2004 draft. “Obviously, I’m excited about making the team out of camp. I have to show what I’ve got every practice and every game.
“I don’t think you can ever feel too comfortable. Every hockey player in the world wants to play in this league. There’s just a certain amount of players who can do that, so you have to fight for your spot always.”
Karlsson, 19, the club’s No. 1 selection in the 2008 NHL draft, said the Senators’ decision to keep him around will be dwarfed in Sweden by the coverage given to Mats Sundin’s retirement.
“It’s a big dream come true and I’ve been working hard for this since the day I got drafted,” said Karlsson, who has slick offensive skills. “I’ve just got to work hard every day.”