Twenty-one seasons later, Luke Richardson still feels that unmistakable gamenight buzz. And more than ever, he savours every second of it.
The veteran Ottawa Senators blueliner will make his 2008-09 regular-season debut tonight, when the Florida Panthers provide the opposition at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). Head coach Craig Hartsburg is inserting Richardson into the lineup in place of Brian Lee who, at 21, is the team's youngest defenceman.
"Luke's a veteran that we need to get back into the lineup here. It's time he played," said Hartsburg. "It's been up and down for Brian as a young defenceman (so far this season). There's a lot to learn. We certainly like Brian and we think he's on the right track for his career, but it's also a night when maybe it's a good time for him to sit back and watch."
Richardson aims to put his 20-plus seasons of National Hockey League experience to good use against the young Panthers tonight. But he admits he'll be just as enthused as everyone else when he steps on the ice for his first game action this season.
"It's something that I can use to my advantage, all the years of experience," he said. "But sometimes you do have to check your (emotions). You've got to take a big deep breath, look around and enjoy it for a second so it doesn't take over your ability on the ice. But then when you are ready to step over the boards, you put it all on the ice and focus on the 10 guys on the ice."
It wasn't until the day before the Senators left for their season-opening trip to Sweden that Richardson knew a 21st NHL season was definitely in the cards for him. He came to training camp on a pro tryout and had to battle to earn another one-year contract with the Senators. But Richardson made it clear today that all the sweat and hard work has been worth it.
"Sometimes, in the middle of the summer when you're working hard and you're not sure of your destination, you wonder if it's worth it," he said. "At this point, it's worth it, it really is. It's the best job in the world for a hockey player, to play in this league, and it's definitely an honour to be (on the ice).
"When I was younger... sometimes you take that for granted, but every night and every shift is a special thing. You've really got to keep that in mind and utilize that to motivate yourself on the ice."
Richardson's stay in the lineup figures to last awhile, as the Senators have announced Lee has been sent down to their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.
“Obviously you always keep working on your skill set," said Lee about his demotion. "I’m going to continue working on my shot. But the main message was they want me to play more. So going there is where I’ll be able to play more.”
Also primed and ready to go is forward Christoph Schubert, who was a healthy scratch for both games last weekend. Now it's Shean Donovan's turn to sit out.
"You're a professional athlete. You want to show you can play," Schubert said of his desire to get back into the lineup. "I played all the games last year, I played 80 the year before. It was kind of hard (watching) but you're a pro. You've got to take it as a pro and you're got to work on your (game).
"There's no room for pouting now. You've got to be the good guy in the dressing room. It was two tough games (sitting out) but you've got to be the guy who brings the good attitude into the dressing room and that's what I did."Around the boards
Martin Gerber gets the start in goal tonight against the Panthers, while Alex Auld
takes his next turn between the pipes on Friday, when the Anaheim Ducks visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for tonight's game, while just 750 are left for Friday.