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White makes right in Sens Skills

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators already had plenty to smile about this weekend.

Their impressive 6-1 triumph over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night – which widened their lead to five points atop the Eastern Conference standings – pretty much assured that.

Sunday, though, was a day for fun and relaxation. A day to share a little more with their loyal fans, some 18,471 of them who turned out at Scotiabank Place on a winter afternoon for the annual Sens Skills presented by Bell.

Antoine Vermette won both the shooting accuracy and fastest skater contests Sunday afternoon during Sens Skills presented by Bell at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/ Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
And also another of those special occasions to lend a hand to a good cause: Easter Seals and Roger’s House shared equally in the $125,000 donated from the day’s proceeds by Bell and the Senators through the Sens Foundation and the National Hockey League Players Association’s Goals and Dreams fund.

Both the attendance and charitable donation were the highest in the nine-year history of the event.

Oh yes, there was a little competition, too. This year, the honours went to Team White, which recorded an 11-9 victory thanks in great part to speedy forward Antoine Vermette’s double victory in the fastest skater (13.82 seconds) and shooting accuracy (4-of-5 targets) events.

While Vermette was happy the Wade Redden-led White squad snatched top honours away from captain Daniel Alfredsson’s Team Red this time, he called the day itself a big win for everyone involved.

“Personally, I had fun but at the end of the day, it’s fun for the fans,” said Vermette. “They get a little closer, a little touch with the players and we interact with them. We raised a lot of money, as well, for a good cause.”

Players on both sides couldn’t say enough about the huge crowd, especially on the heels of the season-high 20,297 who watched Saturday’s big win over the Canadiens – the Senators’ 22nd straight sellout at Scotiabank Place this season.

Mike Fisher successfully defended his hardest shot crown with a 105 mph blast Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
“That’s a great crowd. It’s pretty impressive,” said Vermette. “The support of the fans in Ottawa… I love this city, the (fans are) great. If you can have 18,000 people out for a skills competition, it means people around here care about this team.

“It means a lot to us and we appreciate it.”

Added Alfredsson: “It’s pretty amazing to see the turnout of people here and the interest that we generate throughout this city. Our team (lost) today, but it was a great day.”

Team Red’s Mike Fisher successfully defended his hardest shot title with a blast of 105 miles per hour – the second-highest ever recorded in an NHL team skills event (behind Chad Kilger’s 106 mph). Fisher used defenceman Joe Corvo’s stick for the winning shot, which eclipsed the 102.1 mph figure he recorded a year ago.

“It’s a little stiffer,” said Fisher. “We have the same curve, but a little stiffer is better for slap shots. I don’t use slap shots a whole lot in games.”

Count Alfredsson among those not surprised by Fisher’s red-hot shot.

“He’s got a great shot,” said Alfredsson. “His wrist shot is probably as hard as my slap shot. That’s probably his biggest asset. He can really shoot the puck.”

It’s back to business on Monday morning for the Senators, who’ll entertain another Northeast Division rival, the Buffalo Sabres, on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

No doubt they’d like to ride the momentum of Saturday’s victory over the Habs, the Senators’ most complete and dominant effort in recent weeks. More importantly, though, was the team’s ability to rise to the occasion against a quality opponent in a key game.

“(Saturday) night was a statement game as far as we were concerned,” said head coach John Paddock. “The players put a lot of emphasis on the game themselves.… It doesn’t guarantee us anything going forward, but it’s important.”

Fisher saw the kind of team the Senators need to be with the stretch drive toward the playoffs just around the corner.

“We played with an edge,” he said. “We’re ready to play. We play like that, it’s going to be hard for teams to beat us.

“It was a huge game for us. The big games (this season), we’ve usually stepped up and played well. It’s a pretty good sign.”

Paddock confirmed Ray Emery, who’s now won two straight starts for the first time since early January, will get the goaltending call against the Sabres.

Check out our Sens Skills photo gallery here.

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