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Senators swing into new season

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Under grey, threatening skies and with autumn's chill most clearly in the air, they reunited – as they always do at this time of the year – on a posh golf course, a rather hefty drive from the office they'll soon call home again.

Perhaps the clearest sign yet, it might be suggested, that another hockey season is finally at hand.

So it was for the Ottawa Senators, who gathered as one Monday morning for the first time since their early playoff elimination at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. But as the players arrived at The Marshes for the 15th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic, they spoke with renewed optimism about the season set to unfold.

"We're excited," said forward Dany Heatley, who'll begin his assault on a third 50-goal season in four years when the Senators open their 2008-09 season against the Penguins at the Globe Arena in Stockholm. "There's a couple of new faces in here but, as a group, I think it's a lot of the same guys. We're obviously not satisfied with what happened last year but I think everyone had a great summer, everyone looks good and we're anxious to get going."

Players report to Scotiabank Place for medicals and fitness testing on Tuesday. Then they'll hit the ice the following day to begin building the team that will make the historic trip across the pond to Sweden for the NHL Premiere against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

It will be a far different group than the one fans saw for most of last season. Craig Hartsburg moves behind the bench as the Senators' new head coach with several new faces to build around. Among that group, acquired by via free agency or trades, are forwards Ryan Shannon and Brad Isbister; defencemen Jason Smith, Filip Kuba, Alexandre Picard and Brendan Bell, and goaltender Alex Auld.

Gone, meanwhile, are defencemen Wade Redden, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Commodore; goaltender Ray Emery, and forwards Brian McGrattan, Cory Stillman, Randy Robitaille and Martin Lapointe. If anything, it will give the Senators a rather changed dynamic, both on the ice and in the dressing room.

"I think it looks good," said captain Daniel Alfredsson. "We probably toughened up and (added) a lot of character but at the same time, we've got a lot of high-end skill as well. If we can find some line combinations that will mix nicely, we'll have three good lines that can go out there and produce offensively and we should have a good fourth line as well."

Also gone, at least for now, is the Stanley Cup talk that followed the Senators into training camp a year ago, just a few short months after they'd battled the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 final. But that doesn't mean hopes still aren't high among this group.

"Expectations are the same for us," said centre Jason Spezza. "We feel like we've got a chance to win. We know it's a long battle and a lot of things can happen in a season. You've got to peak at the right time.

"But we feel optimistic about our chances. There's so much parity in the league right now and I think everyone feels like they can win at this time of the year."

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