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Senators owner enthused about 'great, great season'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk was impressed by the 'spectacular support' his team enjoyed throughout the 2011-12 season (Getty Images).

Nearly four days later, he still hasn't quite shaken the sting of season-ending defeat.

But when Eugene Melnyk takes stock of another hockey year just completed, the Ottawa Senators owner can't help but look back fondly upon a "great, great season" for his National Hockey League team.

"What went right and what went wrong?" Melnyk said during a reflective media conference call earlier today. "I can tell you the rights probably outnumber the wrongs 20-1."

Melnyk checked off a host of great successes and memories he witnessed throughout a 2011-12 campaign that ended last Thursday with a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That his team, in the opening throes of a rebuilding process, was able to push the Eastern Conference's top regular-season to the brink told Melnyk plenty about the players on board, and the coaches and management directing it all.

"We started off at the bottom of the mountain and we started clawing our way up," he said. "There were very few expectations that we would get to where we got, and we are in the first year of a rebuild — and let's call it what it is. I've asked some veterans in the league 'how often does this kind of thing happen?' And they said you know what, we can't even remember when a team just comes back, basically tears apart a lineup and puts it back together again.

"But that speaks to (the efforts of) a lot of people."

Melnyk spoke with pride of watching captain Daniel Alfredsson score his 400th career National Hockey League goal and alternate captain Chris Phillips play his 1,000th game, along with the Senators' and city's hosting of the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend — generally billed as a raving success throughout the hockey world. He also noted the organization's part in building the Rink of Dreams in front of Ottawa City Hall, and the addition of the Bell HD Screen ("one of the best, if not the best, scoreboards in the league") at Scotiabank Place.

The Senators owner also expressed gratitude to the team's fans, who produced 26 sellouts this season — 10 more than in the 2010-11 season — and made a true impact with their noise and enthusiasm during the playoff series against the Rangers.

"It's spectacular," Melnyk said of the support his team receives each year. "The fans are truly special in Ottawa. They recognize that we are an underdog in this league in many ways. Many nights, they make the difference between us scoring goals and not scoring goals. Each one of the players will tell you that they can hear the crowd, they listen to the crowd and they play to the crowd.

"Without (the fans), I think it would be a little bit different of a team and I can't thank them enough for everything they do, and I hope for their continued support coming into next year."

Like everyone around the organization, Melnyk is among those hoping the 2012-13 season includes Alfredsson, who hasn't yet decided whether he'll return for a 17th season in Ottawa. The NHL's current longest-serving captain told on Sunday that he'll likely make that call a few weeks after he finishes playing for Sweden at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship, which begins Friday in Stockholm and Helsinki.

"There's no question that we want him back," said Melnyk. "The players want him back, I want him back, the coaching staff wants him back, the fans want him back ... even his kids want him back, I've read. Everybody wants him back. But it's a very personal decision (for him) at this point.

"I do know, just being around him for nine years, he's not going to be a token player. If he's going to play, he's going to play full out like the Daniel Alfredsson we all know. That's why it's going to be a difficult decision for him and we're all hopeful that his body says yes and his mind says yes and his family says yes. We've all certainly said our yes."

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