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Hockeyville experience double treat for MacLean

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators head coach Paul MacLean likes the idea of returning to Atlantic Canada to face off against the Winnipeg Jets, for whom he enjoyed the best years of his NHL career (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle/Getty Images).

Nobody, to be sure, appreciates this Kraft Hockeyville experience more than Colin Greening.

After all, it's not every day you get to play a National Hockey League game in your hometown — especially when you're a native of Newfoundland and Labrador, the island province whose capital city of St. John's is the host for today's pre-season matchup between the Senators and Winnipeg Jets at Mile One Centre (4 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

And few people in the Senators camp probably appreciate it more than Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who was raised in Antigonish, N.S., and remains just as attached to Atlantic Canada as the 25-year-old Greening.

"I love coming to St. John's," MacLean said following the Senators' pre-game skate before an enthusiastic gathering earlier today at Mile One Centre. "I haven't been here for a little while. For Colin Greening, it's a big night, and it's a little way to give back to the minor hockey community and to the game of hockey, and also give the guys that have never been here a little bit of (exposure) to the Maritimes.

"Once you experience it ... it's a little bit different. We can touch a lot of bases by being here."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson no doubt understands the frenzy surrounding the events here and in nearby Conception Bay South, the community that earned the right to hold this game by winning the annual Kraft Hockeyville contest earlier this year.

"I've been living in Canada for a long time, but it never ceases to amaze me," he said. "You can tell how excited everybody is ... it's a big deal. So it's fun to be here and, hopefully, we can put on a good show.

"Any time you come to a city where they don't have the NHL regularly and you see the excitement they bring, it makes the pre-season much easier."

For MacLean, there is the double treat of playing this game against the Jets, whose colours he wore for seven years in the 1980s. The team name was revived back in May, when the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was transferred to the Manitoba capital.

"That's kind of exciting, too," he said. "No one was more excited about the Winnipeg Jets coming back to Winnipeg — and calling them the Jets — than myself. I had a lot of great years there in the '80s and it was a lot of fun. I think Winnipeg deserves to have a team and I know the fans are going to be there to back it every night."

Beyond the nostaglia, however, there is the matter of continuing the build the team he'll send out on the ice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the Senators' season opener on Oct. 7. As of this morning, 51 players still remained in Ottawa's camp — a number MacLean said last week he'd like to have down to about 27 by Tuesday.

"For the most part, every day we see these players is a chance for myself and my coaching staff to evaluate," said MacLean. "We never saw them before on a daily basis, so every day that we can be with them helps us in the final evaluation (in deciding) who is going to be on the team."

Around the boards

Alex Auld will play the full game in goal against the Jets ... Centre Peter Regin and defenceman Brian Lee, who won't dress today, visited area schools during the day as part of the Hockeyville celebrations ... The Senators play their final home pre-season game on Tuesday, when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200) ... The exhibition slate wraps up Thursday in Boston (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).

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