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Wiercioch gets his turn in Senators spotlight

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch will become the seventh player to make his NHL debut for the Senators this season when he suits up against the Hurricanes tonight (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
RALEIGH, N.C. — The eyes almost never lie.

And Patrick Wiercioch, his youthful face filled with an eager anticipation that was oh so obvious, didn't even try.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't (excited)," the 20-year-old Ottawa Senators blueliner said as he pondered the moment every young hockey player dreams about.

Tonight at the RBC Center, Wiercioch will make his much-anticipated National Hockey League debut when the Senators face off against the Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) in the opener of a two-game road trip.

With veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar sidelined with a concussion, the Senators decided the time was right to give one of their top blue-line prospects a shot at the big time.

"He got off to a slow start (this season) but he's been playing much better as of late," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said of Wiercioch, a second-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "His confidence level is the highest it’s been all year so we felt, because of that, that it’s probably the best time to get him up here and give him a game or two, see how he can handle this level and see what he needs to work on and what his strengths are.

"(Wiercioch) is a defenceman that we have high aspirations for in the future. We think he’s going to be a big part of the team. It’s a good opportunity for him to see where he’s at. It’s a good opportunity for us to see where he’s at."

When he hits the ice at the RBC Center tonight, Wiercioch will become the seventh player to make his NHL debut with the Senators this season, following in the footsteps of goaltender Robin Lehner, Jim O'Brien, Colin Greening, Eric Condra and Roman Wick. But the native of Maple Ridge, B.C., waited patiently for his turn while the others got theirs.

"You can't be jealous. Those guys worked hard to get their shot," said Wiercioch. "I didn’t think it was a matter of time or anything. I was hoping to get a call up and make the best of that opportunity."

Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst broke the news to Wiercioch after the team returned home from a road stop in Bridgeport, Conn., against the Sound Tigers on Sunday night.

"I was a little bit shocked," admitted Wiercioch. "I thought he was asking me to come in early Monday, maybe watch some video clips from the weekend. But he said I was going up, so I was excited, that’s for sure."

After two productive seasons at the University of Denver, Wiercioch needed time to adjust to the pro game in Binghamton. But those early struggles are just a memory now as he gears up for the biggest moment yet of his burgeoning hockey career.

"Every game is an opportunity, wherever you are," he said. "I’m excited to be up here and to get some (NHL) experience. The year probably hasn’t been as flashy as I would have liked, but every step is a step, however big or small. The small steps have kind of added up through the year to get me here. I’m proud of that and, hopefully, I can keep it going.

"When you leave (school) and you step up to a higher level, and you play guys that are older and bigger and stronger than you, you’ve got to make an adjustment. Sometimes that adjustment isn’t one week or two weeks — it takes a few months of building to get used to it. The adjustment period was what it was and, hopefully, now it’s behind me and I can just look forward."

Around the boards

Craig McElhinney, who's recorded back-to-back wins in goal for the Senators, has been tabbed as the starter against the Canes tonight. While the London, Ont., native has been solid between the pipes (3-1-0, 1.63 GAA, .951 save percentage) since coming to Ottawa, Clouston said he also wants to give starter Craig Anderson a little more time to recover from a lower-body ailment. "We just want to make sure that when he goes in, he’s not going to aggravate it," said Clouston. "We felt that two more days (of rest) would be days well spent for him. He’ll get a nice full practice tomorrow and we’ll go from there. You’re likely to see him the next couple of games" ... Winger Milan Michalek skated on his own this morning but isn't quite ready to make his return from a broken foot. But Clouston said "everything looks positive for him to come back into the lineup on Thursday," when the Senators face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) ... Wiercioch had hoped to get his parents, Andrew and Ewa, to Raleigh for his first NHL night but they couldn't find the connecting flights out of either Vancouver or Seattle to make it happen.

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