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'Dream come true' for Winchester

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Jesse Winchester is staying close to home to start his professional hockey career.

The free-agent forward, a Long Sault, Ont., native, signed a one-year contract Monday with the Ottawa Senators. For a 24-year-old prospect from the Cornwall area, there couldn’t be a better place to take his next hockey step.

“It’s a dream come true,” an excited Winchester said Monday. “It’s something that’s been a goal, to at least start a pro career someday. Now I’m lucky enough to have that be with a hometown team.

Coveted college free agent Jesse Winchester has signed a one-year deal with the Senators.
“I can’t even explain it. It’s pretty hard (to put it into words).”

Assistant general manager Tim Murray said the Senators had plenty of company in their pursuit of Winchester, a 6-foot-, 215-pound forward.

"I know there were a lot of teams (interested)," he said. "When you go to watch the guy play... and there's three GMs and 10 scouts there, obviously they're all there just to see the one guy. It was all (for) him. I know certain GMs that went in more than once to see him play."

"He's a good player. He's an intelligent player... He makes plays all night long."

Winchester describes himself as "a smart, two-way player who can make some plays. I'm a hard worker and I love being at the rink every day." He wasn't drafted out of junior hockey but, Murray said, "he got bigger and stronger and better in college hockey. He admits that he became a better, stronger, more passionate player in college."

The contract signing capped an emotional weekend for Winchester. Saturday night in Albany, N.Y., he played his final NCAA hockey game for the Colgate Red Raiders, who dropped a 4-2 decision to 20th-ranked Cornell in the third-place game of the East Coast Athletic Conference hockey championship.

“I wouldn’t trade a thing,” he said about his time at the Hamilton, N.Y., school, for whom he scored 40 goals and 114 points in 143 games. “It was the best four years of my life, on the ice and off the ice, growing as a person in the classroom.

“It’s a special school, a special place and I’ve been blessed with great friends and a great support system around me.”

Winchester, who majored in geography, had mixed feelings when he pulled off his Red Raiders jersey for the final time.

“I know I’m not going to be sitting with my best buddies that I’ve lived with for four years anymore,” said Winchester, who was the team’s captain this season was twice named the ECAC’s player of the week. “At the same time, it was great to finish up the way we did, having a memorable run.

“Now I’m looking forward to the future and seeing where I can go from here.”

His Colgate career followed a three-year stint with the Cornwall Colts of the Central Junior Hockey League. Before that, Winchester started into junior hockey with – ironically enough – the Winchester Hawks of the Eastern Ontario Junior B league.

“It was pretty cool,” he said about life as a Winchester playing in Winchester. “When I’d score a goal, they’d announce it a different way. My mom had some family in that town, so it was nice to be able to play there and start my move upward.”

Even nicer now, too, to jump into pro hockey so close to home.

“I’ve followed the (Senators) organization pretty closely,” he said. “I’ve followed numerous guys (on the team). It’s a great group of players and I’m lucky I’ll be able to meet them and hopefully skate with them sooner rather than later.”

Murray said there's a chance he could suit up for the Senators before the end of the regular season. He's scheduled to meet with team doctors in the next two days.

"I think he's going to get a chance to play," said Murray. "We didn't promise him that he would be an NHL player this year. We talked about a long-term career and all that stuff, and he was fully happy with that. But he has a chance to play."

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