Sens enjoy final Mellon ball

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Alex Kovalev was asked if he had any interest in picking up a keepsake from The Igloo.

You know, like a rat or something.

“Maybe a seat,” said Kovalev, who then added, with a chuckle, “or a rat.”

Unless they face Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Senators played their last game ever Thursday night at Mellon Arena (aka The Igloo), which was built in 1961. The Penguins are moving out of the only home they’ve ever known after this season. Their new pad — the Consol Energy Center — is across the street and construction appears to be all but completed. There’s talk that, celebrating the official change of address, will be back-to-back concerts by Bruce Springsteen this summer. One night The Boss will perform at The Igloo, which will have its roof lifted for only the second time ever to mark the occasion. The next night he’ll play at the new place.

Cool, eh?

As someone who is also 49 years old and falling apart, I tell you the switch in venues is long overdue. Players cherish the experiences they’ve had at The Igloo, but among today’s state-of-the-art sports venues, it’s a dump. And Americans, unlike some politicians in Ottawa, understand the importance of sports and stadiums.

When there’s a need for a new one, they just do it.

Chris Phillips says he has “good and bad” memories from the Home of the Penguin.

“We’ve gone through a couple of playoff series there, winning one and not the other,” said Phillips. “There’s certainly been some fun games. To play against Mario (Lemieux), to play against (Jaromir) Jagr, and now (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, years down the road it’ll be something to talk about. So that’s neat. But the arena itself, I’m not going to miss that too much.”

Daniel Alfredsson calls The Igloo a great building.

“We probably won’t miss the locker rooms,” he said, “but the atmosphere is really good.”

And if you think a part of Kovalev’s heart remains in Montreal, well, another slice lives at what is now 66 Mario Lemieux Place. That was Kovalev’s home for the five seasons (1998-2003) he spent in Pittsburgh as a Penguin.

“It was actually the turn-around point for me and my career,” he said. “Where I really came from New York and the coach told me to just play like I can, don’t worry about any mistakes or anything like that. I really felt like a kid that was playing hockey on the street. That’s where I really started playing and enjoying myself. I had a lot of fun.”

Rats and all.

Start and stops

Alfredsson was “on” at the morning skate. At least after he whipped a shot off Brian Elliott’s head. Speaking to reporters following the workout, he was asked multiple questions about the upcoming Olympics. His answers were insightful, and at times funny. The 37-year-old Alfredsson reiterated this will be the last time he plays in the Games. “Last one as a player, anyway,” he cracked. “Unless I become an Italian citizen.” ... Alfredsson is bringing his family to Vancouver. He said his oldest son Hugo, who was born in Ottawa, will be cheering for Sweden. “If Nick Foligno was playing for Canada, he’d probably be cheering for Canada,” said Alfredsson. If Foligno was playing for Canada, the U.S. would have something to say about it. Foligno was born in Buffalo.

Things I think I think

Chris Neil suffered an ugly gash over his top lip Tuesday, when a puck smacked him after deflecting off his own stick. He needed “eight or nine” stitches to close the wound. “You know it’s bad when (team dentist) Doc (Bill) Henry looks at it and says, ‘Ohhhh’, ” said Neil, who tried on a football-type helmet bar for protection at the morning skate, but decided it bothered him too much to use it in the game. “I’m not real worried about it,” said Neil. “If it gets split open again, it’s just more stitches.” ... American soldier Justin Lubash came home to Pittsburgh after he was injured in Afghanistan, where among his lost prized possessions were a Penguins Stanley Cup banner and a Sidney Crosby jersey. The Penguins replaced the sweater after the morning skate and Lubash was a guest in their dressing room, where he had a long chat with Sid The Kid.

Between periods

Alex Kovalev has a couple of Big Apple-originated theories regarding the Senators’ recent success. “It started from New York,” he said. “Maybe Central Park did something to us. Getting fresh air and shooting things around.” He also swears by a motto made famous by the Mets: Ya Gotta Believe. “I said to the guys before, this team is good enough to beat anybody in the league,” he said. “It’s all up to just really believing that.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos