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'It should be fun to go back'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators

Milan Michalek admits it'll be strange going into the visiting team's dressing room in San Jose, where he played the first four seasons of his NHL career (Getty Images).

It will always be the place where their National Hockey League careers were born.

No wonder, then, that Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo have special reasons to look forward to the Ottawa Senators' visit to HP Pavilion in San Jose on Tuesday night (10:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

While the media frenzy is already beginning to swirl around the Senators' first matchup against former teammate Dany Heatley, the two guys Ottawa obtained in the Sept. 12 trade that sent the high-scoring forward to the West Coast are quietly anticipating a reunion of a different sort.

"It should be fun to go back," said Cheechoo, who spent six seasons in San Jose after the Sharks made him a second-round pick (29th overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. "The fans were always nice to me there, so it should be good (for me) when we go there.

"They're a good team, so it should be a good measuring stick for us, too."

Michalek admits "it's going to be a little weird" walking into the "Shark Tank" as a visiting player after spending four productive seasons in San Jose's teal and black colours.

"It's going to be odd going into the (visiting team's) dressing room, but I'm going to treat it as (another) game," said Michalek, the sixth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. "I'm a Senator now and I'm happy here, so it's good."

While Michalek, in particular, envisioned a long-term future on the West Coast – he still has four years remaining on a long-term contract he signed with the Sharks a year ago – there will be no hard feelings when he suits up against his former team for the first time.

"They gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL and I made the team right away, so it was great," said Michalek. "I learned a lot of things there and I’m thankful for it."

Cheechoo will always have a connection to San Jose. His wife, Ashley, is from the area and they still have a home in the California city.

"We’ll probably go back, just so she can see her family," said Cheechoo, a native of Moose Factory, Ont. "I get to see mine all year now. They’re always down (in Ottawa). I’ll probably go spend some time back there."

"It's going to be odd going into the (visiting team's) dressing room, but I'm going to treat it as (another) game. I'm a Senator now and I'm happy here, so it's good." - Milan Michalek
He, too, looks back fondly on his time in California, which included a career-high 56-goal season in 2005-06 while playing alongside Joe Thornton, the big centre who's played a major hand in making Heatley the NHL's second-leading goal scorer (with 18) this season.

"It was a great city (to play in)," said Cheechoo. "They have great fans. Management was always good to me. There are no hard feelings for me going back there. It should be fun. I get to see a lot of people that I know. Not only friends but people inside the rink that I’ve worked alongside... trainers, people in the front office there that got to know me over the years. It should be pretty exciting to see them."

Both players break into wide smiles and agree nothing would top being able to score a goal against their former teammates. Well, maybe one thing.

"For sure, it will be great if I score," said Michalek, who leads the Senators with 13 goals in 24 games so far this season. "But it'll be more important if we win. I'd be happier about that."

While Heatley has been lighting it up in San Jose on a red-hot line with Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the Senators aren't complaining about what they got in return.

"Milan has played very well," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He's leading our team in goals and does a really good job on the penalty kill. He adds an element of speed that we desperately needed, the way the game is played now. He's just been a big, real solid player for us.

"Offensively, we'd like to see more out of Jonathan. But he works hard and the intangibles he brings are valuable to the team. Both those guys make our team better."

Hennessy earns AHL weekly honours

Binghamton Senators left-winger Josh Hennessy has been named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Nov. 29. In three games last week, he collected four goals and three assists while recording a plus-9 rating. Hennessy scored a pair of goals and added an assist in the B-Sens' 7-0 rout of the Adirondack Phantoms, then recorded his 100th career AHL goal and an assist in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Marlies. He added another goal and assist in a 5-0 whitewashing of the league-leading Rochester Americans.

Around the boards

After the Senators practice this afternoon, Clouston declared defenceman Anton Volchenkov "probable" for Tuesday night's matchup with the Sharks ... Goaltender Brian Elliott was stung by a shot in practice but Clouston said "he should be okay" for game duty in San Jose.

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