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Senators eager to welcome Gonchar into mix

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
New Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar, seated beside team president Cyril Leeder, acknowledges cheers from the crowd during a season-seat holder event Friday night at Scotiabank Place. Gonchar's arrival at camp as already drawn plenty of raves from his new Ottawa teammates (Photo Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

The Sergei Gonchar era is officially underway in the nation's capital.

Nobody, it should be noted, is happier to say so than the man himself.

"I've been waiting for that for a long time," said the 36-year-old blueliner, who wore a broad grin while sharing his thoughts with reporters at Senators training camp earlier today.

"It's been a long summer for us and everybody is excited now because we're finally starting to get playing."

That excitement is shared by teammates who can't wait to see what he can bring to their side — and the power play in particular. Certainly, they saw enough of him in the playoffs over the last four seasons, when the Senators faced off against Gonchar and the Pittsburgh Penguins three times. He signed with Ottawa as a free agent on July 1, inking a three-year contract.

"He's going to make it a lot easier for us to break out of our end," observed captain Daniel Alfredsson after the Senators went through their first on-ice session of this training camp at Scotiabank Place.

"(Gonchar) is a smart player, 5-on-4 especially. Just a steady consistent player who brings a new dimension for us. He can make that first pass, he can make that opening pass for a breakaway and create so much.

"But at the same time, he's a veteran, he's been around and he can teach some of the young guys quite a bit. It's great to have him on our team."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "He brings a different dimension because he's such a possession guy. He runs a great power play. He's smooth back there and he's got a shot ... he can pick corners and he gives the guys who are screening a great chance to tip pucks. But the power play isn't the only place where he helps. He's going to help us in a lot of different areas."

Senators head coach Cory Clouston expects Gonchar to quickly establish himself as one of the team's go-to guys — and not just on the ice.

"In our opinion, he's a very solid two-way (player)," Clouston said of his newest blueliner. "He's not just a one-dimensional defenceman. He killed a lot of penalties last year, played against top lines the last few years and he's just really a good team guy. We expect him to be a leader in the dressing room, even though he is new to the team. Just with his type of character and personality, he'll be a leader in there."

Gonchar signed with the Senators mere minutes after the free-agency period opened on July 1. He made it clear then and still maintains that he believes this is a team that has the potential to be a Stanley Cup contender and that he'd like to help make that happen. That's the kind of message that resonates loudly throughout the Ottawa dressing room.

"He's a big-name player with a lot of talent and the best offensive defenceman of the decade," said Spezza. "It's exciting to have that come into your locker room and want to be a part of your locker room. It shows that he feels we have a chance to win."

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