Swede emotion for Sens opener
Zibanejad's dream comes true as Ottawa opens in Detroit
BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency
|Mika Zibanejad, the Senators' first-round pick in this year's draft, will make his NHL debut Friday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency file photo)
DETROIT - Long after everybody else had boarded the bus back to the hotel, Senators centre Mika Zibanejad, the last player off the ice Thursday at the Joe Louis Arena, walked into the nearly empty dressing room.
And most Senators had made a hasty exit after their final full tuneup for Friday’s NHL season-opener against the Red Wings, Zibanejad was savouring the moment. It was hard for the 18-year-old Swede to wipe the smile off his face as he prepared to make his NHL debut — when he will be playing on a line with Colin Greening and captain Daniel Alfredsson.
“I’ve been dreaming of this day,” said Zibanejad, the club’s soft-spoken first-round pick in June’s draft. “To finally get going, I’m really excited.”
Zibanejad will need no introduction to the opposition. With the arrival of Fabian Brunnstrom, the Wings roster now boast seven Swedes — including elite defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom.
Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall are also household names in Sweden and are key contributors to Detroit’s success year after year.
Asked if he had any advice for his young linemate, the 38-year-old Alfredsson kept it simple.
“Just play hard. Don’t worry about the outcome,” said Alfredsson. “Just play like you can. Take it in as well. I’m sure he’s excited as well to play against Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Franzen, Kronwall and Ericsson ... It’ll be exciting for him.
“But, you know what, it’s probably more nerve-wracking before the game. Once the puck drops, it’s the instinct that takes over. We’ll talk as a line. To start, the big thing is to be smart with the puck. Don’t force to make plays.”
Zibanejad is going to have to lift his game. The pace in the regular season is going to be different and difficult.
“I’d just tell him to breathe,” said coach Paul MacLean, 53, who added he’ll be nervous behind the bench. “That’s an important part of it. If you continue to breathe, you can think.
“It’s going to be the same for everybody. The speed is going to be a little bit faster than it was last week. You have to take your game to another level.”
Centre Peter Regin, troubled by a shoulder injury, won’t be in the lineup vs. the Wings and likely won’t also suit up Saturday in Toronto.
He wore a grey sweater in Thursday’s practice and is going to need more time to heal before playing. MacLean said he’d love to have Regin back, but is acting on the advice of those who know a bit better.
“We were optimistic about Peter and he skated well again (Thursday), but we’re not doctors,” said MacLean. “He could go if we needed him to go, but the doctors are cautious.
“I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a doctor so we’re going to respect the doctor’s decision and make sure we pace him. The most important thing is to not have a setback. Peter will not play (Friday) and is doubtful for the weekend.”
MacLean will have a couple of lineup decisions to make after Friday’s morning skate. One of either C Zenon Konopka or C Stephane Da Costa will take a spot on the third line, while D David Rundblad or D Brian Lee will be a healthy scratch.
Konopka has been troubled by a nagging injury throughout camp.