They will raise a most special banner to the rafters of Scotiabank Place on Thursday night, a very tangible reminder of the magical spring that the Ottawa Senators gave a city and its fervent hockey fans.
But then the puck will drop for the home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Daniel Alfredsson
and his teammates will be reminded once again that the Eastern Conference championship they won last season has merely placed a huge target on their backs in 2007-08.
They’ll no longer be the hunters, but the hunted.
All the more reason, Alfredsson said, for the Senators to make sure a repeat of last season’s slow start out of the gate doesn’t happen.
“We need to try to not put ourselves in that position again,” Alfredsson said on the eve of the modern Senators franchise’s 15th season in the National Hockey League. “We’ve got to be ready from the get-go. It’s going to be tough for us, everyone’s going to want to beat us and we’ve got to be ready from the beginning. I think as long as we’ve got that mindset that we’ve got to get off to a good start, we’ll be able to do it.”
For the most part, the Senators were able to retain the same crew that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final before falling in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. Forward Peter Schaefer was traded to the Boston Bruins for an ex-Ottawa 67’s star, Shean Donovan. Defenceman Tom Preissing and forward Mike Comrie weren’t re-signed.
Other than that, it’s a familiar cast that’ll attempt to take one final step toward hockey’s ultimate prize. And there is a very clear sense that, in this group’s mind, it’s Stanley Cup or bust in the season ahead.
“Everyone’s really excited about this year,” said veteran defenceman Wade Redden. “Everyone’s excited coming off the season we had and wants to (finish the job).
“We feel like we want to get back there again, and that we’ve got that knowledge now of what it takes to get there. We want to use that to our advantage.”
Added Alfredsson: “The nucleus is the same. Those are three pretty good players (Preissing, Comrie, Schaefer) that we lost, but we feel like we have a good team. We’ll see how we fare, but hopefully we can stay healthy and have another good year.”
Others take it even further than that, suggesting that only winning a Stanley Cup can bring a satisfying finish to the new campaign.
“Anything less than winning (the Stanley Cup) is going to be a disappointment,” said winger Dany Heatley, who’ll aim for his third straight 50-goal season in 2007-08. “We were so close last year. Everyone talks about the hangover into the next season but from what I’ve seen, guys have come in here hungry (for more).”
New head coach John Paddock, who takes over for Bryan Murray (now the team’s general manager) behind the bench, echoes those sentiments. But he’s a smart enough hockey man to realize even getting back to the final will be no easy chore.
“You only get so many opportunities, and this group is basically back together,” said Paddock. “I think, they’ve shown the start of more maturity, and they’re showing a hunger. It would be extremely disappointing (not to win the Cup). That is the ultimate goal. But only one team wins every year. We know we’re legitimate contenders and we expect to be there.”
Centre Jason Spezza
, a training camp standout who seems primed for a monster season, typifies the attitude the Senators believe can bring the Cup to Ottawa. He arrived in camp looking better than ever.
“Any time you get to the final and don’t succeed, that probably drives you the next year to do whatever it takes,” he said. “We came very close (last season), and we know how hard we have to work.
“We rolled through the first couple of rounds (of the playoffs) and played really well, and we didn’t do well in the final. But I think that definitely helps motivate us (this season).”