|Senators forward Chris Neil signs an autograph for a young fan outside the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas, Ont., following the team's pre-game skate prior to the Kraft Hockeyville game against the Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images).
For the Ottawa Senators, it's a far cry from the hockey stages upon which they're used to performing.
But the buzz is clearly in the air in and around the J.L. Grightmire Arena in Dundas, Ont., which will be filled with about 1,000 spectators for tonight's Kraft Hockeyville matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). The game has been the talk of this town of 24,702 for months, since Dundas was declared the winner of the nationwide CBC contest. In addition to $100,000 in arena upgrades, the town was awarded the chance to play host to a National Hockey League pre-season game.
"All the fans come out and get the opportunity to see some NHL players and some up-and-coming young guys who are trying to make a name for themselves," said Senators forward Chris Neil
. "I never had that opportunity, coming from a small town. We only have 700 people in my hometown (Flesherton, Ont.), so it's not a big spot.
"Just having the opportunity to come out here and see the kids and how they react to it ... I wish I had that opportunity when I was a kid. So hopefully, they have fun tonight and we're definitely going to have fun, for sure."
After putting his team through a 25-minute pre-game skate, Senators head coach Cory Clouston quipped "there's not a lot of room out there, is there? The penalty killers will be having some fun."
"It's actually a big rink compared to where I grew up playing," added Clouston, a native of Viking, Alta. "It's very familiar to a lot of the guys — smaller towns, smaller arenas and a community atmosphere. There are a lot of kids here and that's what it's all about."
Beyond the local hoopla, however, is the business at hand for the Senators. With four games left in their pre-season schedule, there is still plenty of work to be done to get ready for the Oct. 8 start of the regular season.
"We're just trying to get some chemistry, whether it's with lines or as units," said Clouston. "We're trying to create some momentum going into the regular season. It's still an evaluation process. We're still looking at some of these young guys and seeing how they can handle it. The competition is going to get a little stiffer as the games go on. And also, some of our veterans are trying to establish themselves as well."
Clouston expects to make roughly 14 cuts after tonight's game, with those players heading to Corner Brook, N.L., early Wednesday morning for the start of Binghamton Senators training camp. "A big chunk of the decision making will (happen) this evening," he saidAround the boards
The Senators' lines in the pre-game skate today: Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil, Peter Regin
-Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester, Mike Hoffman
-Corey Locke-Bobby Butler and Roman Wick-Cody Bass-Ryan Keller ... Defence pairings: David Hale-Matt Carkner, André Benoît-Eric Gryba and Patrick Wiercioch
-Brian Lee ... Robin Lehner
gets the start in goal and is slated to play the full 60 minutes, with Brian Elliott listed as the backup ... A one-hour special about tonight's game and the events surrounding it will air Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on CBC and CBCSports.ca ... The Senators return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200).