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Riding the rails a blast from hockey's past for Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson gives a wave as he and his teammates board the VIA Rail train for Montreal, where they'll play the Canadiens on Wednesday night (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

It's a mode of travel that brings a wistful smile to Daniel Alfredsson's face.

And not just because the Ottawa captain enjoyed the throwback way he and his Senators teammates travelled to Montreal on Tuesday afternoon for their mid-March matchup with the Canadiens, set for Wednesday evening at the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

It was truly a scene out of the past as the Senators made their way through the main VIA Rail terminal in Ottawa, each of them wearing old-style fedoras as they boarded the train for their journey to Montreal — home of one of the National Hockey League's 'Original Six' teams, and a city familiar with seeing its hockey heroes ride the rails on road trips across the continent.

The team was joined by a couple of carloads of Sens Army faithful along for the ride in what has been dubbed the 'Heritage Train' — they'll all be at the Bell Centre to watch their favourite team, which will take on the Canadiens clad in the 'O' styled heritage-themed jerseys the Senators have broken out in this, the 20th anniversary season of the modern Ottawa franchise.

While the 39-year-old Alfredsson can appreciate the way the stars of the NHL's past travelled to their games, the train also brings back childhood memories as well. His grandfather was a train engineer on the state railway in Sweden, and a summer ride on the rails became an annual treat for him.

"I believe he was a driver as well," Alfredsson said of his grandfather. "I always remember him taking us on train rides when I was a kid. It was one of the highlights every summer ... I always had fond memories of it.

"We're fortunate to be able to travel the way we usually do (by air), and we're getting a small taste of what they had to go through in years past."

While planes have long become the standard method of travel in all major professional sports, the Senators usually make the two-hour trek to Montreal by bus. The train, by comparison, offered the team a much more comfortable and relaxed ride.

"I think anyone would prefer the train over the bus," said Alfredsson. "This breaks up the routine of normal travel. The train will take about half an hour longer but it’ll be way more comfortable. This is a big time of the year for us right now and to do this sort of thing brings up the excitement (level) even more."

Head coach Paul MacLean sees the trip as a welcome "diversion" for the players from the pressure of a playoff chase. While the Senators currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference and own a seven-point cushion over the ninth-place Buffalo Sabres, their post-season position is anything but locked in just yet.

"It’s a pressure time of the year with the end of the season coming, so it’s a great way to relax, enjoy a new experience and take their mind of it just a little bit," MacLean said a few feet from the train warming up its engine behind him. "Then we’ll get ready for a big game tomorrow night.

"I remember playing with Serge Savard in Winnipeg back when I was rookie (in 1981-82), and him and John Ferguson talked about the times they were on the train travelling back and forth (with the Canadiens). They always had a lot of fun ... I think it’s a good experience for us all."

This isn't the first rail experience for a few of the team's veterans, who once travelled the same way to Montreal when Jacques Martin was the Senators' head coach.

"We took the train a number of years ago and back then, the guys loved it, I loved it and I wanted to do it more," said defenceman Chris Phillips. "It’s a great way to travel. To throw in the throwback (fedoras) and bring in that sort of nostalgia for this trip … the guys are having a lot of fun with it."

At least one of the team's youngest members heartity seconds that thought. Two years ago, when he was with St. Louis, goaltender Ben Bishop and his teammates rode the train from Stockholm to Linkoping for an exhibition game when the Blues opened their season in Sweden as part of the annual NHL Premiere.

"It's a pretty nice way to travel, so it'll be fun," said the 25-year-old netminder.

Around the boards

Goaltender Craig Anderson took part in the first 15 minutes of practice earlier today, stopping shots from his Senators teammates for the first time since suffering a lacerated right hand on Feb. 23. But MacLean said it's highly unlikely the Ottawa starter will see any game action this week. "Craig did a little bit (today)." said MacLean. "He made some progress with the glove (blocker) and the comfort level of all of that. It’s a step in the right direction" ... Bishop has been tabbed to make his fourth straight start on Wednesday. Since arriving in trade with the Blues on Feb. 26, the 6-7 stopper has posted a 2-0-1 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

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