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Hartsburg accepts Senators 'challenge'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Friday the 13th was anything but unlucky for Craig Hartsburg.

The Ottawa Senators are certain that's true, too.

Hartsburg, a two-time gold medallist as the bench boss for Canada's world junior program, was named the Senators' new head coach this morning. He arrives in Ottawa after guiding the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for the last four seasons.

"I know it's a great challenge and I can't wait because I love challenges," Hartsburg, who signed a three-year contract with the Senators, said this morning during a press conference at Scotiabank Place. "The sooner this thing gets started, the better."

Senators general manager Bryan Murray speaks with the media earlier today after announcing the hiring of Craig Hartsburg as the team's new head coach (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
The 48-year-old Hartsburg has previous National Hockey League coaching experience with the Chicago Blackhawks (1995-98) and Anaheim Mighty Ducks (1998-2000). He has also been an assistant with the Minnesota North Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.

He brings with him a reputation as a coach who demands accountability from his players at all times. Discipline, or lack thereof, was often cited as the chief culprit behind the Senators' collapse from a record-breaking 15-2-0 start to a quick first-round playoff elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Senators were a mediocre 18-22-4 from Jan. 1 to the end of the regular season, a skid that cost head coach John Paddock his job on Feb. 27. General manager Bryan Murray went behind the bench to finish out the year.

"Trust me, there will be accountability," said Hartsburg. "It will be black and white. The players will know what's right and what's wrong and they'll know the line not to cross.

"People have to know what's right and what's wrong and eventually, that part of it won't just come from the coaches. The players will jump on that and hold themselves accountable and hold their teammates accountable. That's a real good sign when you see the team going in that direction."

Murray decided Thursday that Hartsburg was his man after also interviewing Kitchener Rangers coach Peter DeBoer and Bob Hartley, a Hawkesbury native and former Stanley Cup winner with the Colorado Avalanche. DeBoer didn't go away empty handed: He was hired by the Florida Panthers this afternoon as their head coach.

"It appeared to me that one guy thrived on the scrutiny, thrived on the pressure and wanted the opportunity to be in Ottawa, " said Murray. "There's a little more interest in hockey here than there is in some markets, and with that interest and fan support comes the need to be successful.

"This franchise has been very successful and we want to continue that trend. I believe (Hartsburg) wanted this job badly. He sent that message to me, and at the end of the day, that's the right person, that's the kind of person we want here, the guy who wants to be here and wants the opportunity to lead this team to where we want to be."

Plenty of endorsement for sentiment arrived when Murray began making phone calls around the league about Hartsburg.

"I talked to so many people about Craig Hartsburg, from (Columbus coach) Ken Hitchcock to (Hockey Canada president) Bob Nicholson ... You go down the list of people who have worked with this guy in one way or another, and there's not one person that didn't say 'what a find for you. He's a real good man and a good coach.' "

Just a few days ago, speculation was rampant that DeBoer was Murray's choice for the job. Back home in the Soo, Hartsburg read and heard it all. He admitted today "with all the stories that were going around, I wasn't sure what was going on.

"I really didn't want to overreact (to the speculation), but you just listen and there's not much you can do. You just wait and see what happens. When Bryan called (to offer him the job), I was certainly excited and my wife (Peggy) was excited, too."

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk flew from his Barbados home to Sault Ste. Marie to meet with Hartsburg on Thursday night (the new Senators coach was on the limp after minor hip surgery three weeks ago. He walked into Scotiabank Place yesterday with the help of a crutch). They travelled together back to Ottawa for today's announcement.

"I think that (Hartsburg) has the passion that is necessary, he has the motivation, he certainly has the experience and the skill set and he has that winning attitude," said Melnyk. "Craig has brought to all Canadians tremendous pride. He's brought back three golds – one as the assistant coach (in 2006) and two as the head coach – and that alone tells you a lot about somebody that understands what it's like to win and be part of a winning organization."

A native of Stratford, Ont., Hartsburg was a first-round pick (sixth overall) of the Minnesota North Stars in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. He played 10 seasons with the North Stars and also represented Canada internationally on a number of occasions, including the gold-medal- winning Canada Cup team in 1987.

For audio highlights of today's news conference and details about how to obtain high-resolution images, please click here.

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