by Todd Anderson
Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil fondly remembers the day his name was called during the 1998 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo. The right-winger was selected in the sixth round, 161st overall. It was well worth the wait.
"To have my whole family there meant a lot. There were a couple of interviews (with NHL teams leading up to the draft) that I really paid attention to. I thought my interviews with Ottawa went really well and I kept my fingers crossed when they went up to make their picks. It was a thrill and an honour to be drafted by a Canadian team. It was a long road to get drafted. After that I had to work hard to earn a contract and make the team."
Taking a break after working out in the Senators conditioning room on June 12, Neil said he plans to build on last year's breakout season that saw him set career highs with 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points.
"I had a great opportunity here with the new coaching staff. They showed a lot of confidence in me. For us to not win the Stanley Cup, it makes us work harder. As a Canadian boy growing up that's all you dream about, and it's my goal. I want to get bigger, stronger and faster. The summer is for preparing for next season. It's not like the old days when you came to training camp to get in shape. Now you have to be in shape when you come to camp."
Last season, Neil was one of 13 Senators draft picks to hold a regular spot on the team. He's proud of that.
"You look at a guy like Chris Kelly who came up through the system and played like he did last season. It says a lot about our core group. We're all like brothers. It's a life experience."
On July 8, Neil will take a break from preparing for next season during a day he's truly excited about. He'll marry his fiancée, Caitlin.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "It's exciting to think about spending the rest of your life with someone and being able to cherish special moments together."