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Winchester chasing biggest goals

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Jesse Winchester stood to the right of the centre-ice faceoff circle, the cheers raining down from the rafters for him at Scotiabank Place.

"I was a little shaky," the 24-year-old Senators rookie said this morning as he recalled the moments after he scored his first goal in an Ottawa uniform during Wednesday night's 3-1 pre-season triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers. "It was a big thrill."

Winchester would be the first to tell you the goal was anything but a classic -- his shot toward the net from deep in the corner banked off a Flyers defenceman's leg and past Philadelphia goaltender J.S. Aubin. But for a kid from nearby Long Sault who's living the National Hockey League dream about an hour from home, it was a thing of absolute beauty.

Senators rookie forward Jesse Winchester (18) has been soaking up the advice he is getting from his current linemates, Jason Spezza (19) and Dany Heatley (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
"You know what, I hope there's a few more," he said. "It was just nice to have it happen in Ottawa."

The way the Senators coaching staff sees it, Winchester will get every chance to make that happen. Since the first day of training camp, he's lined up alongside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley on the team's No. 1 line. Sens head coach Craig Hartsburg continues to be pleased with that alignment and Winchester's progress.

"I saw him in the summer and you could see his intelligence as a player," said Hartsburg. "I'm happy with the way he's played, certainly, but the big thing for him is to continue to progress, learn and get better. That's what he's done so far. Every game, he's improved. His confidence with the puck is improving every day."

It is quite the story being authored by a modest rookie who, a mere six months ago, was finishing up an NCAA hockey career at Colgate University. Now he finds himself lining up against two of the biggest stars in the game and is soaking up every ounce of it for what it's worth.

"They just give me advice about little things," said Winchester. "They try to keep the pressure off me and keep me feeling good. They're great guys and they're both really fun to be around. They make me forget about all the outside stuff."

Wednesday's goal was a help in settling those rookie nerves.

"It's always nice to get on the scoreboard," said Spezza. "It'll give (Winchester) a little confidence but I told him before the first game, if he doesn't get a goal all pre-season, it doesn't matter as long as we're doing the right things and starting to find each other on the ice.

"The goals and assists will come. I don't think he needs to be judged on that."

In Winchester's mind, only one thing matters: Securing a spot on the team and extending a story that has friends and family all over the Seaway Valley bursting with pride.

"It's something I've always dreamed about, I guess, to have an opportunity to contribute," he said. "I'm just looking at it as an opportunity to get better. I want to be on this team and I want to find a spot on this team. If it's (with Heatley and Spezza), great, but I just want to prove I'm a hard-working guy who can fit in here."

A little more of what he showed Wednesday won't hurt, either.

"He's in really good shape, he's strong on the puck," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "He can probably work on his shot a little bit more, shoot more as well. But I think he's trying to find his way as well. But he looks good."

Training camp update

Hartsburg said Alex Auld will play the full game in goal Friday night, when the Senators travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens. Auld was a standout in the Sens debut Monday in New York ... Alfredsson won't play Friday but will be in the lineup Saturday, when the Sens and Habs meet again at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200) ... Hartsburg said "there's a good chance" centre Mike Fisher (groin) will return to skate with the team on Friday ... Forward Shean Donovan skipped practice today with tightness in the hip flexor area. He was slated to play Friday but Hartsburg said "we won't put him in if he's not 100 per cent" .... Blueliner Alex Picard (groin) is out tomorrow but practised this morning and is a possibility for Saturday.

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