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Down to the wire in quest for all-star starting spots

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The finish line is just hours away.

And soon enough, the Ottawa Senators — and their overwhelming supportive constituency — will learn whether their voting efforts have been enough to make the first-ever NHL all-star game in the nation’s capital a decidedly homespun affair.

If the latest polling results hold true, a trio of Senators will be among the six deemed first past the post and guaranteed starting spots in the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, set for Jan. 29 at Scotiabank Place.

As of last Friday, Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson held the top spot among defencemen in the fan balloting, while captain Daniel Alfredsson and centre Jason Spezza ranked second and third among forwards, respectively, behind only Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Fan balloting closes today at 11:59 p.m., with the final results set to be announced by the NHL on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. Assuming nothing changes in a significant way, the Senators will own half the available starting positions for the mid-season showcase.

For Spezza, who just surpassed the vote count of Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby in the last week to move into a starting position, it’s a simply stunning result.

“Going in, I don’t know if I expected — or all the guys expected — to get the votes that we’ve gotten,” said Spezza, whose lone previous all-star game experience came in Atlanta in 2008. “It’s great to see how the city has embraced the game and how they’ve embraced our team so far this year. As a player, it definitely gives you motivation and it’s definitely nice to get a thank you from the fans to show they appreciate the hard work we’re putting in.”

Clearly, the five Senators players on the ballot — Milan Michalek stands fifth among forwards, while Sergei Gonchar is No. 6 among blueliners — has a major thank you to send the way of Ottawa fans who voted for their favourites in staggering numbers.

“All the fans here in Ottawa have been really supportive and obviously like the work we’ve put out on the ice,” said Karlsson, the Senators’ lone representative in the 2011 all-star affair in Raleigh, N.C.

“It’s a fun thing to be a part of. If you get voted in, it just shows people in Ottawa really appreciate what you’re doing.”
Count Karlsson among those rooting for the 39-year-old Alfredsson to be confirmed as one of the all-star starters in his 16th NHL season. There is also a strong belief the league will name Alfredsson as one of the game’s two team captains, an honour that was also bestowed upon Carolina’s Eric Staal a year ago when the game was played in the Hurricanes’ home rink.

“It’s more fun for Alfie to maybe get voted in (to the game) here going into the final years of his career,” said Karlsson, the NHL’s top-scoring defenceman. “To be able to play in the all-star game in front of his home crowd … it would be really fun to see.”

Alfredsson likes the idea of having some Senators company in the starting lineup.

“The more we can have there … it will be a great experience, both for the fans and for us being involved,” he said. “We’ve had unbelievable support so far and hopefully, it holds up.”

Added Spezza: “It would be a huge honour (to be there). I’m hoping to get a chance to play in the game and to be voted in would be pretty special. So we’ll wait and see.”

To throw some last-minute support the Senators’ way, log on to on either your computer or mobile device, or text a player’s last name to 81812. You’re allowed 30 votes on each platform.

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