TAMPA -- Chris Neil has been there. He understands.
He will be there for Wade Redden. Just the way everybody was there for Neil last November.
Redden will be welcomed back with open arms tonight for Game 3 of the club's Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Petes Times Forum.
After learning his 57-year-old mother Pat lost her lengthy battle with cancer Saturday, the all-star defenceman returned to his Lloydminster, Sask., home.
But with the funeral set for Friday, Redden kept a promise to his dying mother that he would keep playing and he will be on the ice for today's morning skate.
Redden won't be with his immediate family, but this is the next best thing. His teammates feel his pain and they're going to do whatever it takes to help him through it.
"This might be the best place for him to be," said Neil, who lost his mother Bonnie as a result of a tragic car accident on slippery roads near Oshawa last winter.
"A lot of people know how difficult it is when you lose a parent. But I also know the support I received from my teammates when I lost my mom.
'A GOOD ESCAPE'
"Being on the ice can be your escape. It can make you think of something else for three or four hours. It can be a good escape."
There was no surprise in the Senators room when coach Bryan Murray told the players that Redden was coming back to play in these games before returning home for the funeral.
During a phone conversation with Murray from the airport early Sunday, Redden expressed concern about missing Game 2, but was told to take as much time as he needed with his family.
That's why he'll take a red-eye flight home to Saskatchewan from Tampa following Thursday's Game 4 and rejoin the club in time to play Game 5 at Scotiabank Place Saturday.
"I know this was discussed between him and his mother and his family in her final weeks and this is something that she would have wanted," said Murray. "She wanted him to keep playing. I've gotten to know Wade Redden since I've been here, I know the kind of guy he is and I know how much he cares about the team.
"This is a difficult crisis for this young man. This is what he wants to do. He wants to play."
Selfishly speaking, the Senators need Redden as well. He plays important minutes, quarterbacks the power play and can be the difference with the series tied 1-1.
"Not having him is not the reason we lost (Game 2), but we did miss him," said Senators defenceman Zdeno Chara. "Anytime you don't have a guy like that you're going to miss him. He plays a big role for us."
Redden's father Gord, brother Bart and sister Niki will be watching the next couple of games from their Lloydminster living room.
And no doubt Pat will be looking on from above. Maybe she'll be sitting on the same couch with Bonnie Neil, while late Senators coach Roger Neilson tries to hog the remote control so he can get a look at everybody play.
"(Redden's) mom, my mom, they were both terrific ladies and everybody in the dressing room knows how much they meant to both of us," said Neil. "The guys are going to be there for him. I know he's coming back because that's what Pat wanted, just the way my mother wanted me to get back playing when (she passed away). We're all going to help Wade through this. He's going to get a lot of support."
That's what friends are for.