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Mlakar ends 'wonderful ride' with Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Outgoing Senators president and CEO Roy Mlakar addresses the media on Wednesday during his final news conference as the team's top executive. Cyril Leeder is heading up a new executive management team that will take the reins from Mlakar.

From the depths of the National Hockey League to an unforgettable ride to the Stanley Cup final in 2007.

Yes, Roy Mlakar has seen absolute highs and the lowest of lows during his 13 years as president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators. But he leaves the organization comfortable in knowing more success is just around the corner for a franchise that saw its run of 11 straight playoff appearances end in 2008-09.

"We missed the playoffs my first year as a consultant (in 1995-96) and we've never looked back," Mlakar said Wednesday in his final news conference as the Senators' top executive. "It's been a great run until this year, when we had a rocky road, but I have no doubt we'll be back on top again with this great management team going forward."

Mlakar was informed Monday during a "40-minute excellent conversation" with team owner Eugene Melnyk that his contract wouldn't be renewed (audio). A new executive management team headed up by Cyril Leeder will steer the franchise into the future.

"There isn't really anything specific," Mlakar said when asked why he felt Melnyk chose to move forward without him. "It's just a young, fresh approach and I respect that. I don't have a problem with it at all (audio) ... Often times, it's good to have new, fresh vision and ideas to take it to the next level."

When Mlakar joined the organization in 1995, the Senators ranked dead last in the National Hockey League in both revenues and attendance. Much has changed since then.

"Now we're sixth (in revenues) and seventh (in attendance) and (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman calls us a model franchise," said Mlakar. "A relatively inexperienced group of people who made up the front office are now a well-greased machine. The record speaks for itself. This team, on and off the ice, should be very proud of their accomplishments and it all starts with ownership.

"My job is now done. I want to thank ownership for this wonderful 13-year ride... I've never been treated with anything but respect by ownership here (audio). I don't remember a time period when we've had any type of disagreement that would have caused a conflict."

Under Mlakar's leadership, the Senators have made a significant charitable imprint in the capital region. He sits on the board of the Sens Foundation, the Candlelighters and the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, and is honorary chair of the Ottawa Senators 65 Roses Sports Club.

The 58-year-old Mlakar also spearheaded the drive to build Roger's House in memory of his good friend, former Sens assistant coach Roger Neilson. His wife, Tamera, is also very active in the community.

"We made a lot of good friends here and we've called Ottawa our home," said Mlakar, who also cherishes the relationships he's enjoyed with the team's players over the years ("I think I've had 30 of them call me in the last two days," he said with a grin) (audio). "My wife left a significant job with the (NBA's) Los Angeles Lakers to come here and make a commitment to the three boards she participates on. We really like it here, there's no question."

Mlakar, whose 38-year career also includes previous executive stints with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, hopes to stay in the sports business (audio).

"(NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman calls us a model franchise. A relatively inexperienced group of people who made up the front office are now a well-greased machine. The record speaks for itself. This team, on and off the ice, should be very proud of their accomplishments and it all starts with ownership." - Roy Mlakar
"I think I've had resilience before and bounced back quickly," he said. "I'm certainly looking forward to staying in sports. We'll see what comes up in the National Hockey League, for sure."

Regrets? Mlakar only named one – the Senators' loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 Stanley Cup final. But that playoff run, which captivated the imagination and the hearts of a city, also left him with a true sense of the passion Ottawa has for hockey.

"When we got out of the plane (after returning from Anaheim) and there were 15,000 people... Alfie (captain Daniel Alfredsson) looked at me and I looked at Alfie and the two of us just started to tear up and said 'are you kidding me?' " said Mlakar. "This city has a tremendous passion and I'll miss that, but I know the legacy will continue here as being a great franchise."

His greatest pride is "leaving behind a well-groomed front office and staff that are very experienced at what they do" (audio).

"I think that plus the fact – as (then-Ducks GM Brian Burke) said to me after we lost to them in Anaheim – '28 teams would love to trade places with you.' There's only one parade. And I think we have the ability to get back there and have that parade. So I'm very proud of that, what the team was able to accomplish."

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