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Passion for the game remains Neil's driving force

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Chris Neil will always be a heart and soul type of player.

Simply put, it’s the only way the 31-year-old native of Flesherton, Ont., knows how to play the game. For nine seasons and more than 600 National Hockey League games, Neil’s special brand of passion has energized his Ottawa Senators teammates — not to mention the fans at Scotiabank Place who cheer him on.

Neil was a sixth-round pick (161st overall) in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, but he’s come a long way since then in establishing himself as one of the Senators’ core veterans alongside captain Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Jason Spezza. With 1,600-plus penalty minutes to his credit, he long ago became the team’s all-time leader in that category. But he’s also a team leader who’ll find a way to hit the scoresheet, too.

Neil took some time out to talk with about his hockey passion:

Q: You’re known as a guy who brings a lot of passion to his game. Is that just something that comes naturally for you?
A: I know my parents brought me up with the attitude of always going out and putting everything you have into it. That’s what I try to do game in and game out. I try to do things to the best of my ability. Whenever I hear the anthem, I’m looking around and I want to go out and put on a good performance for the fans that come to watch us play. That’s why I work hard, because I know they appreciate it.

Q: Would you be the same player without that kind of passion?
A: It’s tough to say. That’s not my makeup. I am what I am and I don’t really think about stuff like that.

Q: You hit the 600-game milestone earlier this season. Does it feel like you’ve been with the Senators that long?
A: To be around this long and be a part of this organization is great. But time has flown by. It’s one thing after another and before you know it, it’s been 600 games. The first 100 fly by quick and before you know it, you’ve played 600. I look at a guy like Alfie playing in 1,000 games and that’s pretty remarkable.

Q: What do you remember about your draft day in 1998?
A: It was pretty exciting. I had my family down at it in Buffalo. A lot of kids go down (to the draft) and my expectations weren’t high. If I got drafted, I got drafted. But just to hear your name called …I had to wait around for awhile to hear it, but just to hear it called and see how proud it made my family was a great feeling.

Q: How did it feel to get selected by the Senators?
A: I was just excited to get picked by any team. Going to a Canadian team was great. I wasn’t too far from home and their minor league team at the time (the Grand Rapids Griffins) wasn’t too far away, either. It was six hours of driving one way and six hours the other type of thing. Coming to Ottawa …they had a good team and a great organization. Just to be a part of something like that and how they treat their guys was great.

Q: What would it mean to you to play your entire career in Ottawa?

A: It would be unbelievable. I try to stay loyal — they’ve been good to me, so I keep working hard and playing for the jersey on my back. As long as I keep doing that, hopefully I’ll stay around.

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