New Train at Senators' station

Defenceman Eric Gryba is likely to start the season in AHL Binghamton. (ERIC LAMONT/QMI Agency)

Defenceman Eric Gryba is likely to start the season in AHL Binghamton. (ERIC LAMONT/QMI Agency)

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 PM ET

Short on open-ice hitters at the NHL level, the Senators will at least be able to put their ear to the track and pick up a rumble coming from the upper New York state area.

It will be the E-Train.

While his ETA is still unknown, Eric Gryba is the type of blueliner Ottawa lost when Anton “A-Train” Volchenkov and Andy Sutton left via free agency over the summer. Along with playing a steady defensive game, the 6-foot-4, 222-pounder loves to throw his body at opposing forwards.

In his first pro game Friday at the Bell Centre, Gryba just about hit a home run. The 22-year-old Saskatoon native lined up Max Pacioretty and cruised toward him in the same manner that made Volchenkov and Sutton famous. 

Alas, he only “caught half” of the Habs winger.

“I was a split second away from putting someone in the hospital,” Gryba said the next day.

The Senators’ third-round pick (68th overall) in the 2006 draft, Gryba completed his schooling at Boston University before turning pro. After four years with the Terriers, he stands as the team’s all-time penalty minutes leader with 354. He also had six goals and 15 assists in his 153 game college career.

“My game really hasn’t changed,” said Gryba, a right-handed shot. “In college, I killed a lot of penalties, played a physical game, intimidating to the other team. Make the first pass, play solid defence, block shots, kill penalties ... nothing has really changed. The only difference now is there’s fighting. Which is fine.

“I’ll go for big punishing hits, and with that territory, usually you’re going to have to fight.”

Sure enough, Gryba was challenged by Ryan White after his hit on Pacioretty. It was the first time he had dropped the gloves as a pro, and one of the rare scraps he’s ever had. 

“At practices in college, maybe two or three,” he said. “Then I fought about 13 times in junior, when I played (one season) in the USHL (with the Green Bay Gamblers).

“It was a good fight,” he said of his tilt Friday. “I enjoyed it. I got a few good ones in.”

The entire experience of playing at the Bell Centre was a thrill for Gryba. He’s played in Boston’s famous Beanpot tournaments, as well as the Frozen Four. He’s played at Fenway Park, in front of 40,000 fans, in an outdoor game against Boston College. And he’s played at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, twice in fact, against Cornell.

But the Bell Centre and it inhabitants was something else.

“It was a great crowd, a great experience and I was actually happy with the way I played,” said Gryba, who had 15:33 of ice time and led the Senators with three hits. “I’ve played in front of some big crowds before, but that was definitely up there as one of the cooler games I’ve played in.”

Senators coach Cory Clouston liked his game as well.

“He was one of the guys that played like he wanted to at least establish himself,” Clouston said. “We know it’s a longshot that he’s going to start the season off here, but to me, for his first professional game, he did the right things. He did his game, he played intense, he played physical. He got stronger as the game went on.

“To me, the impression he left with the coaching staff, was a positive one.”

Gryba has not received nearly as much fanfare as fellow blue line prospects Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch. He understands why.

“I know that I’m a different horse than those two,” he said. “I play a more rougher style of game. 

“We’re three different types of players. Cowen’s a first- rounder and he’s going to get a lot of press. Wiercioch left school two years early and he’s a big prospect and he’s going to get a lot. I understand that. It is a little motivation to earn my spot and get my time.”

Ice chips

Former 67’s W Corey Cowick played 6:53 and had two shots on goal in his first NHL pre-season game Saturday. Naturally, it was a special night for the Gloucester native. “It was amazing,” Cowick said. “The atmosphere was good, especially starting in a game against the Habs. It definitely adds to it. It was tough to get my feet under me for the first little bit. But I felt great.” ... The Senators had Sunday off ... No roster moves are expected until after the Senators return home from Tuesday’s game in Dundas against the Sabres.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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