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Owner embraces Sens' time in hockey spotlight

Friday, 01.27.2012 / 3:46 PM / 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game

By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Owner embraces Sens' time in hockey spotlight
Things are great for Senators owner Eugene Melnyk. His team is winning again, and his city is serving as the host for the biggest hockey party of the regular season
When Eugene Melnyk bought the Ottawa Senators in 2003, he wasn't just happy to provide stability to an emerging franchise. He had big plans for the team and the city. All those dreams have coincided nicely in the days leading up to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, an event in which his team and its players will figure prominently.

"When I bought the franchise, one of the things on our mind was to have an All-Star Game," Melnyk told NHL.com.

In order to get that coveted mid-season classic, Melnyk first had to convince Commissioner Gary Bettman that Ottawa was capable of hosting the event.

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"We had to convince him early on," said Melnyk. "We said, 'Look, we can put on big events. We'll show you.' And we have put on huge global events like the World Juniors. Our only problem was we didn’t have the convention space yet. As soon as that happened, it made things a lot easier for us."

With the All-Star Game set to be broadcast in 150 different countries and expected to generate roughly $30 million in local revenue, Ottawa has become hockey's epicenter for the weekend. Of course, it hasn't hurt that the event has dovetailed nicely with the emergence of a resurgent Senators team that has made everyone forget about a 2010-11 season in which it finished last in the Northeast Division with 74 points. With new coach Paul MacLean behind the bench and a strong mix of young and veteran players, the Senators already boast 60 points at the All-Star break and have their sights set on a Stanley Cup Playoff run.

"We planned all that, you know that," joked Melnyk, who has reveled in seeing the team's players figure so prominently in the All-Star Game, particularly team captain Daniel Alfredsson, who heads a five-player contingent of Senators participating this weekend. "It's nice. It's very different, coming in on a high like that. We have a number of players on Alfie's team and he's delighted. They're all thrilled as well, which is great. They're being treated well and for some of them it's their first experience being an All-Star and they're really enjoying it."

For the Senators' owner, it's been even more gratifying witnessing all of it in a city like Ottawa.

A smaller sports market compared to some other NHL cities, Ottawa's citizens have rallied around the Senators.

"Here we can make a difference. It's tough to make a dent in some of those big cities," said Melnyk. "I spend a lot of time in New York, not to knock New York, but there is just so much going on there and so many activities. Here, something like this makes a huge impact for the people."

Through his tenure as the team's owner -- in winning and losing seasons -- Melnyk has focused primarily on his team's on-ice performance.

"Ottawa isn't used to losing, to be frank. They've been used to being in the playoffs every year and all of a sudden we're out of the playoffs or we have an early exit four years in a row," said Melnyk. "It got some people concerned and there is only one solution. That is to rebuild, and it's working out."