|Defenceman Sergei Gonchar listens to a media question during his first appearance at Scotiabank Place today. He signed a three-year free-agent contract with Ottawa on July 1 (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
In Sergei Gonchar
's mind, it was simply time to begin authoring a new chapter in his hockey career.
While the 15-year National Hockey League veteran admitted it wasn't easy to leave a Pittsburgh Penguins team he helped win a Stanley Cup two years ago, Gonchar is clearly enthused about the new challenge that awaits him with the Ottawa Senators. And hoisting Lord Stanley's old mug one more time.
"It's a new page in my hockey career and I’m happy to be here and play in Canada," said Gonchar, who signed a three-year contract with the Senators on July 1. "Playing in a Canadian city is always something that’s been special for me and now it’s going to happen every night. I feel like I’m joining a very good club with really good hockey players. Hopefully, with my addition, we can go far in the playoffs and win a Cup."
Gonchar, whose NHL career also includes previous stints with the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, smiled freely and often as he met with Ottawa media for the first time earlier today. The native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, and his wife, Ksenia, arrived in the capital Thursday to begin looking for a new home and a school for eight-year-old Natalie, their eldest of two daughters (their youngest, Victoria, is 15 months old). While they like what they've seen of the city so far, Gonchar said "the hockey is always first."
"When I made the decision about moving to another city, it was a hockey decision first," said Gonchar, who'll wear his familiar No. 55 with the Senators. "My wife has always supported me and whatever decision I was going to make about my hockey career, she would support me. So hockey came first.
"Then we got here yesterday and we found out more about the city and what it offers. I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far. We looked at a couple of schools and everything is good so far ... I’m sure my family is going to like it because what we’ve seen so far is good."
"I don’t think age is a factor for a player of this nature. He’s high skilled, he addresses a tremendous need on this hockey club and that is to provide skill on the back end and direction on the back end ... This gentleman and Nicklas Lidstrom are the two people, in my observation and career, that provide that and make your team tremendously better." - Bryan Murray
Senators general manager Bryan Murray also helped make it easy for Gonchar to choose Ottawa by pursuing him right from the minute the NHL free-agency period opened on July 1. Gonchar, who produced 50-plus points in nine of his previous seasons, was considered the top blueliner available on the open market and was the first big name to change teams.
"There were a few teams (interested) but when we got a phone call from Ottawa, you could see right from the first second that they were very serious," said Gonchar. "They really needed me and wanted me to be there, so you could understand right from the first second … Bryan was right there and he really wanted me there. Looking at that, plus it being a team in Canada, I made my decision."
"When you’re in a city for a few years and you’ve won a Cup and things are going well for you, it’s not easy to leave. To me, it seemed like it was time to go and move on. I was looking to a new challenge ahead of me and I wanted to pursue it this way."
While some might question the addition of a 36-year-old free agent to the lineup, Murray surely wasn't among them and recognizes what Gonchar can do to inject some extra juice into the Senators power play in particular. He is widely recognized as one of the top power-play quarterbacks in the NHL.
"It was not very hard to choose him, no matter what his age was," said Murray. "I don’t think age is a factor for a player of this nature. He’s high skilled, he addresses a tremendous need on this hockey club and that is to provide skill on the back end and direction on the back end.
"I like (us) to have the puck. I like to have some skill on our line where we can have an attacking sequence. I like to help our forwards. This gentleman and Nicklas Lidstrom (of the Detroit Red Wings) are the two people, in my observation and career, that provide that and make your team tremendously better."
"There were a few teams (interested) but when we got a phone call from Ottawa, you could see right from the first second that they were very serious. They really needed me and wanted me to be there, so you could understand right from the first second … Bryan was right there and he really wanted me there. Looking at that, plus it being a team in Canada, I made my decision." - Sergei Gonchar
While Gonchar hasn't spoken with any of new teammates yet — he received a message from captain Daniel Alfredsson
on the day he signed and has had a conversation with head coach Cory Clouston — he sees a team with the potential to "do some damage" in 2010-11 and enjoy more playoff success.
"I’ve played against (the Senators) and I know how good they are and how skilled they are and what they’re capable of," he said. "That’s why I’m saying that when I signed here, I knew what to expect and I’m looking forward to it ... I can tell you, this team is very close (to being a contender).
"When I was playing against them in Pittsburgh, it was always a challenge. It was a tough series against them (in April) and it was a close series. I can tell you this team is very good and maybe with a few additions, this team can make the next step."
Gonchar considers himself ready to embrace everything that goes along with playing for an NHL team in Canada. And that includes the pressure that is inevitably part of it all.
"Every time you're playing out there, you can see those fans sitting in their chairs and how much it means to them," he said. "You can see that in the whole country of Canada, it's the No. 1 sport for them. So every time you see how much passion people have for their hockey, it gives you extra energy and an extra challenge.
"That's why I'm looking forward to it."