EDMONTON — One of the toughest men in the NHL was close to tears.
As Chris Neil answered questions about the trading of his best friend, his eyes watered and his upper lip trembled.
You knew he was upset an hour or so earlier, just by the look on his face when he took the ice for practice. But you could only really tell when you talked to him how hurt he was by the deal GM Bryan Murray made that sent Mike Fisher to Nashville.
“You don’t like to see anyone go, but the way we’ve played this year, I think it ties Bryan’s hands,” said Neil, keeping his emotions in check.
“Mike’s a character guy, a guy that’s hard to replace, he’s a guy that teams want. You can’t say enough about him.
“He’s been a good friend, a good teammate, and you hate to lose guys like that. But the thing is we’ve got to move on. Hopefully, this wakes everyone else up.”
The friendship between the two goes back to the late 1990s. They played against each other in the OHL, and were both drafted by the Senators in 1998, Fisher in the second round and Neil in the sixth. After Neil spent a couple of years in the minors, he joined the Senators as a full-timer in the 2001-02 season.
He and Fisher lived together on Corkery Rd. in Ottawa’s west end as young bachelors. In the past, Neil has referred to them as brothers.
So when it was pointed out that Fisher wasn’t just any teammate, Neil choked up.
“No he’s not,” he replied. “Like I said, great friend, unbelievable. He’s a quality guy. My friendship definitely won’t change with him, we’ll always keep in touch. I think if he had to go anywhere, that’s the place he wanted to be. Obviously, he’d love to still be in Ottawa. It’s frustrating as players, that we didn’t play better to keep everyone together and keep everyone around.
“We’ll definitely be seeing him, that’s for sure.”