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Final cut sends Cowen back to junior ranks

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Veteran blueliner David Hale impressed Senators management and coaches  with his steady play in training camp, earning himself a spot on the opening roster (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

Jared Cowen's National Hockey League dream has been put on hold for now.

And David Hale's career might have found a new spark.

The Ottawa Senators announced the final nine cuts of training camp tonight and no name on the list was bigger — literally and figuratively — than that of Cowen, who his been returned to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League for the balance of the season.

"We thought about it long and hard and Jared, overall, played pretty well in camp," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said about the decision on Cowen, who was "disappointed" to hear the news. "We’re trying to do what’s right for him and, eventually, us. I just felt going back to junior, playing 25-30 minutes a game and getting a chance to develop his puck skills a little more would probably serve him best. I think he has a chance to play on the world junior team as well and this will be real good for him.

"It was just a matter of saying yes or no. It was that close. We thought long and hard about keeping him. But I think in this situation, it probably is the right thing for him."

Re-assigned to the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators were goaltender Robin Lehner, defencemen Patrick Wiercioch and Derek Smith, and forwards Cody Bass, Bobby Butler, Ryan Keller, Francis Lessard and Corey Locke.

That leaves 23 players on the Senators' season-opening roster — two goaltenders, eight defencemen and 13 forwards. The total includes all 20 players who dressed for tonight's pre-season finale against the New York Rangers, along with captain Daniel Alfredsson, defenceman Brian Lee and injured blueliner Filip Kuba, who is sidelined until at least the end of October with a broken leg.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the opening roster is the veteran blueliner Hale, a former first-round pick by the New Jersey Devils (22nd overall, 2000) who had played for three teams in the last three NHL seasons — Calgary, Phoenix and Tampa Bay — before signing with the Senators as a free agent during the off-season.

"It’s positive, I think. I’m happy," said Hale, 29, who owns 302 games of previous NHL experience. "I’m not satisfied but definitely happy. I got six pre-season games in and they went pretty well

"At least for a few days (it's good). There’s still going to be guys in the minors that are chomping at the bit and they’re still hungry. I’ve just got to keep going."

While Hale was relatively unheralded when he arrived at Senators camp, he impressed the team's coaching staff and management with his steady play.

"He’s got 300-plus NHL games (of experience)," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He’s been a bubble NHL player for most of his career — kind of there, but just not quite. Maybe this is an opportunity to step up and be a regular. We like what he does without the puck. He’s solid defensively."

Added Murray: "We’re going to stick with him for a few more days here and in all likelihood, we’ll start the year with him. Until Kuba comes back, at least. (Hale) is what we thought he was. He’s a hard-working guy, competitive, will fight if he has to. He can defend decently. The big problem with David has always been his offensive skill. If he keeps the game simple and we play him right, he’ll be able to contribute."

The Senators open their 2010-11 season next Friday against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200). They're off to CFB Petawawa on Monday, where they'll hold an open practice and go through a team bonding exercise.

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