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Sens blueliner's turn finally arrives against Habs

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Eric Gryba makes his Senators debut tonight in Montreal against the Canadiens and hopes to leave a strong first impression with team management (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

Admittedly, Eric Gryba doesn't have the flash and dash of some of his Ottawa Senators blue-line colleagues.

But he'll do whatever it takes to make an impression in his first National Hockey League test against the Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal (7:30 p.m., RIS, Team 1200).

Sure, it's just a pre-season contest but don't tell that to the 22-year-old Gryba, a Saskatoon native who's had this day in mind for awhile.

"It's really exciting," said the 6-3, 214-pound defenceman. "I've been working for a long time to get this opportunity, so I'm hoping to make the most of it. I'm sure there will be some butterflies but, hopefully, I'll kick those early and get into the flow of the game."

While Gryba, who signed with the Senators on March 31 after completing four years of U.S. college hockey at Boston University, is likely ticketed to start the season with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators, he'd like to prove a little something extra tonight.

"I want to show I can play at this level," said Gryba, a third-round pick by the Senators (68th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. "That I'm a player and I can hold my own out there ... There is a good chance I'll be down in Binghamton this year, but I'd also like to get (some) games up with the big club. To get called up here would be nice and I'll work hard for that."

Gryba didn't arrive at his first Senators training camp with as much fanfare as top prospects Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch, but Senators head coach Cory Clouston believes there's a recipe available for him to cook up some success tonight.

"He's just to keep it simple," said Clouston. "He's got to understand that he's not in the same situation as maybe Wiercioch. It's a different role and he's got to be a solid defensive defenceman, (make the) good first pass, be a physical presence out there and be reliable. If he does that, he'll be fine.

"He just has to understand what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are and play within his limitations, especially for the first game."

Gryba has been a sponge since arriving at training camp, paying close attention to the habits of some of the Senators' most experienced blueliners.

"It's just been soak it all in, learn as much as I can and try to become a better player throughout the whole camp," he said. "It's little things (you notice). Certain things about being a pro on and off the ice, coming to practice focused. Especially watching some of the older guys like (Chris) Phillips and (Sergei) Gonchar and guys like that, you can take a lot from watching them and how they carry themselves on and off the ice."

Tonight, however, it's time to turn all of that into action.

"I imagine it's going to be a really lively environment," Gryba said with an eye toward tonight's matchup at the Bell Centre. "I'm really excited to soak it all in."

Around the boards

When the Senators and Canadiens square off tonight, it'll be the first NHL meeting between a pair of Danes, Ottawa's Peter Regin and Lars Eller of Montreal. Bragging rights, perhaps? "It's not the most important thing for me going into the game," Regin said with a grin. "But we all want to be the best. It's going to be fun to play against him." ... Clouston confirmed that Pascal Leclaire will play the full game in net for the Senators, with Mike Brodeur dressing as the backup ... The teams meet again Saturday at Scotiabank Place in the Senators' pre-season home-opener (7 p.m., Rogers TV, Team 1200).

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