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Sens itching to finally drop the puck

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
GOTEBORG, Sweden — Finally, it's time to drop the puck.

With three days of practice firmly under their belts, the Ottawa Senators finally get some game action going on their Swedish hockey odyssey. And it figures to be a frenzied atmosphere in the sold-out Scandinavium tonight, as the Senators take on the Frolunda Indians of the Swedish Elite League (1 p.m. ET, no TV, Team 1200).

Officially, it's only an exhibition test for the Senators. But they see it as one final chance to set the right tone before heading to Stockholm for their 2008-09 season-opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. The teams play again the next day at the Globe Arena as part of the NHL Premiere series.

"This is going to be a fun game. I’m really going to try to enjoy it as much as I can," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, the Goteborg native and former Frolunda star, said about his homecoming night. "But it’s an important game. We want to play smart, play the right way and prepare for Saturday. The season’s not far off now and this is the last rehearsal."

Added head coach Craig Hartsburg: "It’s an important game for our team to keep building and take steps forward in lots of parts of our game – special teams, faceoff situations, little things that will be important on Saturday night."

For a team that's been in Sweden since Monday morning, it's also a chance to finally play a game. Hartsburg can see his team is itching to get started.

"They want to play a game," he said. "It’s not too often in this league that you get that many days of practice. They want to play a hockey game and they know that Saturday night is getting closer and closer. I can see the excitement."

The anticipation has also been high on the other side of the ice. Nobody knows better than Alfredsson what tonight means to Frolunda and to his hometown.

"They’re real excited, especially the young guys," said Alfredsson, who spoke with some of Frolunda's players last night. "I talked to their coach (Ulf Dahlen), too, and he said he’s probably going to play the young guys that have been drafted or are looking to go over to see what the difference is (between Swedish hockey and the NHL).

"I think it should be a pretty good game. We’re going to have to be sharp early on ... (But) once we get into the game, I think we’ll get better and better."

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk arrived in Sweden a few days ago and has already heard about the soccer-like atmosphere that surrounds games here. He's anxious to see it firsthand tonight.

"It’s something I’ve been looking forward to ever since it was announced," said Melnyk. "We arrived here a couple of days ago and the hospitality has been incredible. The people have been very, very nice. I hear that the game tonight is going to be very exciting. (The fans) really take their hockey seriously here and they get drums out, so we’ll see what happens."

Around the boards

Forwards Shean Donovan and Dean McAmmond, along with defenceman Luke Richardson and goaltender Brian Elliott, will sit out tonight's game. But Hartsburg said that doesn't necessarily mean the three veteran skaters will be spectators for the long haul. "It’s nothing that anybody’s done wrong," he said. "It’s just a situation of these are the players we’re playing tonight. It may change on a nightly basis, but everybody’s going to get a chance. If they’re here, they’re going to get a chance to contribute and feel a part of it." ... Martin Gerber gets the start in goal against Frolunda.

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