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Great reunion for Senators coach

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Call it the great reunion at Scotiabank Place.

More than 20 years after lining up alongside each other for Team Canada in one of the greatest series in hockey history, Craig Hartsburg and Wayne Gretzky will try something a little different on Friday night: Coaching against each other for the first time in a National Hockey League game.

Hartsburg's Ottawa Senators and Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes will tangle at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) in an intriguing early season matchup. For the Senators, it's the second in a run of five straight games at home before they hit the road for a trip to Toronto, Buffalo and Florida starting Oct. 25.

After Thursday morning's practice session, Hartsburg spent a few minutes talking about the days he spent as Gretzky's hockey teammate – first with the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, then with Team Canada during the famed 1987 Canada Cup, which concluded with an epic three-game final against the Soviet Union in what was arguably the finest exhibition of hockey ever staged.

"Nobody quite knew (about Gretzky) when he came there as a 16-year-old," Hartsburg said of their days together with the Greyhounds. "You'd see this scrawny little guy come on the ice with us and then all of a sudden, he's setting people up left and right for open nets. It didn't take us long to know that this guy was pretty special."

Gretzky and fellow Hockey Hall-of-Famer Mario Lemieux combined for the winning goal against the Soviets in 1987, providing a classic finish to the magnificent final.

"He always seemed to rise to the occasion when you needed a big goal or a big play," Hartsburg said in recalling Gretzky's efforts in that series. "Him and Lemieux in '87 just seemed to challenge themselves to play at a level that maybe neither one ever played at. The Russians had their big line and with Gretzky and Lemieux, there were some pretty special players playing at the highest level they've ever played at."

For Hartsburg and the Senators, though, the concern at hand is handling the Coyotes team that Gretzky now coaches. There's still no word yet about whether Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson will be in the lineup either tomorrow or Saturday night, when the Boston Bruins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

Alfredsson shed the grey jersey worn by spares in today's practice, exchanging it for a white jersey also worn by regular linemates Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. But also clad in white was Nick Foligno, who's been practising with the big line all week.

"I'm not going to commit to anything yet," Alfredsson said in discussing his status after he took part in a full practice for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last Friday. "We'll see how it is tomorrow. I'll skate tomorrow morning and go from there.

"Back-to-back (games) is probably not ideal to play but then again, if it feels really good, you can't rule it out, either."

Foligno is willing and ready to answer the call if he's needed on the No. 1 unit.

"I hope (Alfredsson) comes back. It would be nice to see him back in the lineup," said Foligno. "If that's not the case, we've got enough guys in here to help fill the void, myself included. I just want to make sure, if I'm called upon to play on the top line, that I play well and just fit in with those guys."

Around the boards

A total of 6,000 tickets remain available for the Senators' four remaining home games in October. Fewer than 500 are left for Friday's matchup with the Coyotes, while 1,500 are available Saturday against the Bruins. Fewer than 3,000 tickets remain for the Florida Panthers' appearance at Scotiabank Place on Oct. 22 and fewer than 1,000 for the Anaheim Ducks' visit on Oct. 24.

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