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'Fresh start' brings new enthusiasm to Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
You're not in Florida anymore, Craig Anderson.

Or Colorado, for that matter.

Already, the Ottawa Senators goaltender can feel the buzz in the air that annually greets the beginning of a new hockey season in the nation's capital. A riptide of excitement that made its way through the hallways of Scotiabank Place today on the opening day of Senators training camp.

"It's Canada and hockey is Canada," Anderson, a native of Park Ridge, Ill., said in summing up the enthusiasm he feels about starting a National Hockey League season north of the border for the first time in his career. "As soon as you come in, you feel the hockey buzz and the energy and the excitement that has already started here. And the season hasn't even started yet."

It's an enthusiasm that was clearly evident among Anderson's teammates, at least in the words many of them shared as they spoke about a season that features a younger roster playing for a new coaching staff, headed up by longtime Detroit Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean. Captain Daniel Alfredsson used the phrase "fresh start" to define what awaits one and all.

"It's Christmas Eve today," MacLean said with a wide grin, his thoughts clearly pointed toward his first on-ice session Saturday as a National Hockey League coach. "I think I feel the same way as all the players do today but at the same time, I think it's a good nervousness and a good excitement about a new season. I'm looking forward to the opportunity that presents."

So, too, is veteran centre Jason Spezza, who likely isn't alone in wanting to put behind a 2010-11 season that saw the Senators miss the playoffs for the second time in three years — but finished with the promise of the rock-steady Anderson in goal and some exciting young talent in front of him.

"It's a new year and there's a lot of optimism," Spezza said as the Senators went through fitness testing and medicals at Scotiabank Place. "That's the beauty of the game — it starts from scratch (every season). Last year is in the past now and whether it's a good year or a bad year the year before, you always have to prove yourself as a player and as a team. That's what we're going to be striving toward every day."

Most intriguing to watch during this training camp will be the impact of young prospects such as centres Mika Zibanejad and Stephane Da Costa — both of whom shone at last weekend's rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ont. — along with blueliners David Rundblad and Jared Cowen, who are both expected to push strongly for jobs in this camp.

As well, the Senators rewarded four members of the Calder Cup champion Binghamton Senators — Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Colin Greening and Erik Condra — with one-way contracts, a clear indicator they'll be at the forefront of the team's youth movement.

"This is the way we're going now with the team," said 21-year-old blueliner Erik Karlsson, suddenly a veteran of sorts as he enters his third season as a Senator. "It's a young team. We still have the veterans that we need and everybody's really excited to see what we can do and how we'll progress this seasosn. So far, everything looks really good."

Added veteran defenceman Matt Carkner: "This year, everything's new, everything's changed and there's a lot of excitement around the room ... a lot of youth and a lot of energy. We're looking forward to the future."

Senators general manager Bryan Murray acknowledged the young up-and-comers could make for an interesting camp over the next two weeks, which will also be filled with seven pre-season games that the decision makers figure to watch intently.

"Very definitely, we do have some decisions to make on this roster," said Murray. "We've got two or three defencemen, maybe four defencemen, that deserve a real look in training camp beyond the regulars. And I think we have five or six forwards, a couple of which are candidates for that second-line centre spot who will really compete during the camp and, I suspect, will see some games during the year.

"There will be turnover as we go forward and a number of people will have a chance."

The Senators hit the ice for their first on-ice session on Saturday morning at the Bell Sensplex, with the 59 players in camp divided into three groups. Ottawa's pre-season opener is Monday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., Team 1200).

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