|While he recuperated from an injury that cost him 57 games of the 2008-09 season, Sergei Gonchar rediscovered why he still has a passion for hockey (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
As the frustrating wait for an injury to heal became almost interminable, Sergei Gonchar
allowed his mind to wander to that place no athlete really wants to go.
But in the end, that little bit of soul-searching reminded the veteran defenceman that he still has plenty of fuel left in the tank. An abundance of desire to keep pursuing the game he truly loves.
"The motivation for me is that I (still) love the game and I want to keep playing," the 36-year-old Russian said today when asked what inspired him to accept a three-year contract offer from the Ottawa Senators, making Gonchar the first big name to find a new home via the National Hockey League's free-agent market.
"I have the desire and the energy for it. That's the reason I'm going out there to play (for the Senators)."
During a conference call with reporters, Gonchar admitted a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 57 games in the 2008-09 season tested his resolve and even had him thinking about the end of his career. But by the end of that campaign, the offensively gifted blueliner hoisted the Stanley Cup along with his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates. It was anything but the smoothest of journeys for Gonchar.
"I was injured a year ago for a long period of time, and I was sitting at home and (not playing)," said Gonchar. "And when I was sitting at home, I was asking myself ‘are you ready for it? Are you ready to sit at home and help your wife with all the stuff around the house and not to be at the ice rink and not play?’ And the answer was no."
Gonchar, who missed a chunk of last season with a broken arm, is convinced his injury woes won't limit his game going forward.
"Those injuries can happen to anyone," he said. "It can happen to anybody, even if you’re in the greatest shape. I took me awhile to recover, but I didn’t feel any side effects. I broke my arm last year. It’s another thing that can happen to anybody.
"I was injured a year ago for a long period of time, and I was sitting at home and (not playing). And when I was sitting at home, I was asking myself ‘are you ready for it? Are you ready to sit at home and help your wife with all the stuff around the house and not to be at the ice rink and not play?’ And the answer was no ... I (still) love the game and I want to keep playing. I have the desire and the energy for it. That's the reason I'm going out there to play (for the Senators)." - Sergei Gonchar
"I didn’t feel any different. I missed the time. At any point in your career, you don’t want to do this, but sometimes you have to go through these things."
The Senators have no such concerns, either.
"It doesn't matter about the age of the guy," said Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray. "He's in great shape, he's got mobility and ... this guy's got hands and a head beyond many defencemen in the league. If you look at his point totals over the last few years, he's right at the top of the pack pretty much with the good players in the league."
When the Senators contacted Gonchar just minutes after the free-agency period opened at noon today, he didn't hesitate to accept the offer. It also gives him a chance to call Canada home for the first time, something he calls "special."
"Every time I play in Canada, I always play better," said Gonchar, who will begin looking for a home and a school for his children in Ottawa next week. "It's another reason that I wanted to sign with them. Ottawa was one of the first teams to call, and it meant to me that they were really serious because they were approaching me right from the first minute. So that's why I signed with them."
Gonchar also has one other serious piece of motivation. The Winter Olympics are coming the Russia for the first time in four years and he dearly wants to represent his country at those Sochi 2014 Games.
"We've never had a Winter Olympics in the history of our country," said Gonchar, a member of four previous Russian Olympic teams. "So the long-term goal is to participate in that Olympics."