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'One big family' unites behind Senators coach

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Chris Phillips says the Senators will do what is necessary to support assistant coach and former teammate Luke Richardson and his family in their time of need (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

It will be a game day unlike anything they have ever faced before.

But united in a feeling of shared grief, the Ottawa Senators say they'll do what they must to support a team member and a friend in the most terrible of circumstances.

In an ideal world, the Senators would be in Raleigh, N.C., today, resting and relaxing before Wednesday night's matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200). Instead, they're home in Ottawa and won't arrive back in North Carolina on Wednesday until hours before game time.

No doubt they will head south with thoughts of a celebration of life for Daron Richardson — the 14-year-old daughter of assistant coach Luke Richardson, who shockingly died on the weekend — still very fresh in their minds. But to hear the Senators tell it, this is simply the way it must be.

"This is something we want to do and should do," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said following a team practice at the Bell Sensplex earlier today. "We'll deal with the service (Wednesday morning) and go through that. Once we get on the plane and go down to Carolina, you just try to prepare and get ready. I'm sure we'll take a lot of pride in that game tomorrow from this whole situation and our effort probably won't be an issue at all."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "We're professionals, we'll be able to play and we'll be ready to go. But it's going to be a tough morning. It's going to be hard, but we wanted to make sure we were here to support Luke and his family. They've been great to us and, hopefully, us being there can help them a little bit."

Defenceman Chris Phillips shook his head when asked about the difficulty Wednesday's events will present to the team, suggesting it all pales in comparison to the tragedy that has hit Luke and Stephanie Richardson and their daughter, Morgan.

"You look at their situation and (how hard) is travelling on a game day? What does all that mean?" said Phillips, a former teammate of Richardson's here in Ottawa. "It's so immaterial, it's not even on our minds. It's about being here for the Richardsons and the hockey stuff will take care of itself."

Saturday night, just hours after hearing the news about Daron's death, the Senators played with intensity and emotion in blanking the Bruins 2-0 in Boston. But the tank was clearly closer to empty during Monday's 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Head coach Cory Clouston suggested his team "was flat" and knew exactly why.

"Not much times goes by (before the Richardson tragedy) enters your mind," said Clouston. "We had a real big emotional, focused game in Boston and I think we had a big letdown in last night's game. We didn't have the same jump or intensity or focus that we had the first night. You can try to guard against that, but they're not robots. They care about Luke, they care about his family and it's been on their mind for sure.

"Not much times goes by (before the Richardson tragedy) enters your mind. We had a real big emotional, focused game in Boston and I think we had a big letdown in last night's game. We didn't have the same jump or intensity or focus that we had the first night. You can try to guard against that, but they're not robots. They care about Luke, they care about his family and it's been on their mind for sure ... Today we dealt with what we have today. Tomorrow, we’ll deal with what we have tomorrow. We’ve just got to make the best of it." - Cory Clouston
"We’re not going to make excuses. Our job is to go out there and try to get a win. I understand what happened (in Philadelphia). I understand (why) we just didn’t have a lot of emotion, (but) I’m not going to get all over the guys. We wanted an upbeat practice today, we wanted a good, focused practice and we got that. That’s all we can do. Today we dealt with what we have today. Tomorrow, we’ll deal with what we have tomorrow. We’ve just got to make the best of it."

That being said, Clouston admitted he "can't predict" how his team will react in Raleigh on Wednesday night. All he knows is that it'll be anything but easy for them all.

"Each individual will deal with that differently," he said. "It's not going to be easy, but this is what we have to do. We have to be here tomorrow and then we have to go and try to play our best game in Carolina. It's not the best-case scenario. You don't like travelling on the day of a game and it definitely breaks up your routine, but we need to be here tomorrow."

It's a sentiment that has run through this team almost from the moment they learned the horrible news that had struck the Richardson family.

"There were no ifs, ands or buts about that," said an emotional centre Mike Fisher. "We need to be here. We're like one big family here and we've got to be here to support (the Richardsons) as much as we can ... It's something you never want to think about. For their family, I can't even imagine what they're going through.

"Guys (on the team) are shaken up. There are guys with kids and it makes you think about how precious life is and your own situation or whatever you're going through doesn't seem so big anymore."

Fisher doesn't doubt he and his teammates will play strongly against the Canes, even if the game they all truly love is secondary right now.

"It’s going to be a tough day, but we want to get on the ice and just play as hard as we can," he said. "That’s our job and (the game) is probably going to be of little significance for the day, compared to things that ultimately really matter. But we’ll go out there and play as hard as we can."

Around the boards

Forward Nick Foligno missed today's practice because of illness, but Clouston said "he'll be fine" for Wednesday's game ... After Wednesday night's game in Raleigh, the Senators head off to St. Louis, where they're slated to face the Blues on Friday night (8 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) to close out their four-game road trip ... Forward Alex Kovalev will enter tomorrow night's game one point shy of the 1,000 plateau for his career ... Friday's game is slated to be the 200th of forward Ryan Shannon's National Hockey League career.


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