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Expansion Senators team will 'always share a bond'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

Brad Marsh thinks back to the night it all started and can't believe it's been that long.

"You still think of it as a new franchise," said Marsh, who closed out a 15-year National Hockey League career as a member of the Ottawa Senators expansion entry in 1992-93. "It does not seem like 20 years."

Two decades later, the Senators are indeed celebrating the 20th anniversary of their return to the NHL after a 58-year absence. And the party kicks off in earnest Tuesday night, when Ottawa plays host to the Minnesota Wild (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200) in its 2011-12 home-opener.

Fewer than 500 tickets remain for the game.

It's also an evening in which the team that got it all started receives a curtain call as a tribute to the special place it still holds in modern Senators franchise history. On Oct. 8, 1992, that first squad beat the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens 5-3 in front a delirious, packed house at the Ottawa Civic Centre. The nation's capital, it might be said, has never been the same since that historic evening.

Never mind that the first Senators team would win a mere 10 of 84 contests that season — just one of them on the road. The game that is the country's passion was back in a back way and that's all that seemed to matter at the time.

"The main thing, in looking back, is there were really no expectations that we would be competitive ... it was such a mish-mash of guys," said Marsh, who'd played previously with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings before landing in Ottawa. "Everybody here was a true hockey fans, but we were a lot of fans' second team. People had been cheering for various other teams and players their whole lives and it was tough to change.

"But the underlying factor was people were so happy to have the NHL back that we were the talk of the town, despite our record."

Despite such an inglorious start, Marsh isn't surprised the Senators would become what they are today — in indelible part of the Ottawa community, both on an off the ice.

"Yes, simply because it's Canada and it's NHL hockey," Marsh said when asked it he confidence the Senators would succeed in a big way. "There was no doubt about it in anybody's mind, that it was going to become big news in the city."

While the Senators struggled badly on many nights during their first season, Marsh can still look back upon that time with fondness. That the wins were few and far between ... well, it wasn't for lack of trying.

"We had a great group of guys ... guys that had been up and down, guys that understood the game and the stuff that went on off the ice," he said. "Everybody that we had here had been there, done that, so nothing really fazed us. We were, in some ways, a competitive team, but we did not have the ability to compete against some of the other teams in the NHL.

"But we didn't take many nights off. That's what I remember. We didn't take many nights off and we gave it our damndest each and every game."

That one season in Ottawa had a life-changing impact on Marsh, a London, Ont., native who has called the city home since his retirement from the game. He is the longtime president of the Senators Alumni, a group of former team and NHL players from the area who are heavily involved in charitable initiatives in the capital region.

"We've done a ton of great work," Marsh says with pride. "Our guys are more than happy to represent the team in the community."

Over the next few days, the 53-year-old known as "Marshy" will savour the chance to turn back the clock to the beginning, when the Senators took their first steps toward gaining an important place in the city they call home.

"We always do share a bond," said Marsh, now a distributor with Visalus Sciences. "A lot of guys continued to play (after 1992-93), a lot of guys went into coaching and a lot of guys retired back to their hometown. There really hasn't been an opportunity to see much of the guys, let alone get back together as a group. So I think it's just great that we're getting a chance to get together."

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