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Da Costa 'nervous, excited' about making NHL debut

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators forward Stephane Da Costa meets with the Ottawa media for the first time since signing with the team as a college free agent. He'll make his NHL debut on Saturday night against the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

Stéphane Da Costa pondered the magnitude of the impending moment and needed little time to sum up his feelings about it all.

"Nervous. Excited for sure," the 21-year-old Parisian said on the eve of his National Hockey League debut, which will come Saturday night against the provincial rival Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place — not to mention those who'll watch from coast-to-coast on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.

Nope, this definitely isn't hockey in France, where the sport is anything but mainstream and, as Da Costa suggests, "it's more about soccer and rugby." Let's just say it's been an interesting journey since he took up hockey as a three-year-old and went on to play in junior leagues in the outskirts of Paris and beyond.

Hockey brought him to the United States as a 17-year-old and, through his agent, he landed with the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League. But Da Costa said the adjustment was rougher on his parents, Thierry and Yolande, who are flying to Ottawa on Saturday to watch their son live his biggest hockey dream (Da Costa's brother, Gabriel, is coming, too).

"It was a tough decision," Da Costa said about making the move across the pond. "Really tough, especially on my parents. I wanted to go. I'm a young guy (back then), going to the States, playing hockey, living the dream ... but it was tough on my parents."

After spending one season with the Tornado and another two with the Sioux City (Iowa) Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, Da Costa enrolled at Merrimack University in North Andover, Mass., and became an instant sensation. From his second game with the Warriors — when Da Costa fired home five goals, including a natural hat trick — he caught the eye of National Hockey League teams, including the Sens.

Some 20 NHL teams around the league reportedly were interested in landing the 5-11, 185-pound forward when he declared his intentions to turn pro after his sophomore season at Merrimack. Thursday morning he decided Ottawa was "the right fit" for him and he proudly wore a red Senators cap as he handled his first media interviews.

"It felt good," Da Costa said after skating on his own with assistant coach Luke Richardson at the Bell Sensplex earlier today. "I was really tired because I haven't skated in about five days. We'll see tomorrow (how it goes)."

And what a stage it will be for the player who grew up idolizing former Detroit Red Wings star Sergei Fedorov — "I watched him a lot and tried to do the same stuff," he said — and will now get his first taste of the Battle of Ontario on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) against a Leafs team desperate to keep its playoff hopes alive.

"A lot of nerves, probably," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said when asked how he feels Da Costa will handle the biggest hockey spotlight of his life. "It's a pretty big stage against Toronto, which is going to be playing as hard as you could possibly imagine ... a team playing for their playoff life.

"He's a skilled guy and we're going to give him an opportunity to play. We just want him to go out there and play as well as he can, try not to do too much, keep things simple and just play his game ... He's excited about being here and there's a little bit of anxiousness as well, but more excitement about playing tomorrow."

Around the boards

Da Costa's arrival forced the Senators to end the emergency recall status of forward Colin Greening, who has been re-assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League ... Defenceman Erik Karlsson, who suffered a 25-stitch cut to his thigh when cut by a skate blade during Thursday's 4-1 road win over the Florida Panthers, isn't likely to play Saturday against the Leafs. "It didn't cut into the muscle but it was a deep cut, so it required a lot of stitches," said Clouston. "It could have been a lot worse. But he doesn't see it that way, he sees it as a bad break" ... After Saturday, the Senators have only two more home games remaining this season — Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) and Thursday versus the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

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