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Milestone night at hand for Senators rookie, veteran

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar plays his 1,100th NHL debut tonight at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, when Mark Borowiecki will also play his first game in a Senators uniform (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images).

Their birthdates are 15 years apart, the gulf between the worlds in which they grew up even wider.

But a pair of Senators defencemen have reason to feel almost equally giddy this evening, when Ottawa faces off with the San Jose Sharks (10:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) in the first stop of a four-game western road swing.

For Mark Borowiecki, a 22-year-old blueliner whose family home is just minutes away from Scotiabank Place, the dream of someday suiting up for his favourite National Hockey League team is about to become reality. He'll make his Senators debut against the Sharks and what a moment it will be for the fifth-round selection (139th overall) by Ottawa in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

"I'm definitely very excited," Borowiecki, who'll wear No. 74, said following the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "It’s something you work all your life toward and it’s just nice to get a chance now. I'm excited to get out there."

The 6-1, 185-pound defenceman hopes he'll escape any serious case of the jitters tonight.

"I got them all out in the pre-game skate," Borowiecki said when asked about his nerves heading into tonight's game at HP Pavilion. "The first strides around the rink were pretty wobbly, but I’m feeling good now ... I'm just (going to) keep it simple. Get the puck, move it to my first option and don’t try to play outside myself.

"I know (the Sharks) are a good team, but every team at this level is. I’m just going to try to stick to my guns here and play my game."

As luck would have it, he'll also have his biggest fans — parents Tom and Cindy, along with sister Diana — in the house. It'll be quite the highlight to the family's vacation plans in California.

"They made a little holiday out of it," said Borowiecki. "It worked out well, eh?"

Senators head coach Paul MacLean is happy to provide Borowiecki with the opportunity.

"We thought he had a real good season last year," said MacLean. "When Binghamton won the Calder Cup, he was a big part of it. He had a good training camp with us and exhibition season, and he’s played real well for them down there. We really want to see him play here in the National Hockey League and give him that opportunity, and we’re pretty excited to see him play."

Tonight's game at the Shark Tank also marks a milestone occasion for Sergei Gonchar. The 37-year-old blueliner is suiting up for his 1,100th career NHL game, something he hardly thought possible as an aspiring young player in the former Soviet Union.

"It’s actually amazing," said Gonchar, now in his 17th NHL season. "I never thought that I would play in the NHL when I was growing up. Back then, in Russia, not as many players played in the NHL. The biggest dream was to play for your local team.

"Then I started playing in the NHL (with the Washington Capitals in 1995), and I never dreamed that I would play that long. Being at 1,100 games is pretty special. Not that many players have done it and especially not that many Russians … it’s a good accomplishment for me."

Gonchar, who recorded just 27 points in his first season with the Senators in 2010-11, has nearly matched that total already (2-22-24) before the all-star break. He admits "time is just flying by" and that it doesn't seem like 1,100 games for him just yet. The way he's feeling at the moment, the native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, doesn't plan to hang up his skates anytime soon.

"It seems like I just started playing in the NHL, that it was just a little while ago," he said. "And then all of a sudden, it’s 1,100 games ... I’m still enjoying the game and I’m having fun. So (as long as) I still have that feeling, I’m going to continue playing."

Around the boards

Tonight's game marks a reunion of sorts, as MacLean and Sharks bench boss Todd McLellan — both former Detroit Red Wings assistants under Mike Babcock — square off as opposing head coaches for the first time. "We both thought we had the abilities to (run our own teams) and were both looking forward to that opportunity," said MacLean, who'll push hard for a win over his old friend in this one. "My big brother and I still compete when we play anything. When you work with someone for a time, that competition comes out as well." ... Counting Borowiecki, tonight's Senators lineup includes seven players who helped bring the American Hockey League crown to Binghamton a year ago ... The red-hot Craig Anderson makes his 11th straight start in goal ... Blueliner Matt Carkner is tonight's healthy scratch ... Ottawa's road trip continues Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center (4 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), then moves on to Los Angeles (Monday) and Phoenix (Tuesday).

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