Craig Schira joins crew of young defencemen knocking on Senators’ door

MONTREAL – Craig Schira got his first taste of NHL pre-season hockey on Friday night and didn’t do badly at all.

The undrafted former Regina Pat and Vancouver Giant emerged as a plus-2 on the Ottawa Senators blue-line from a 4-2 exhibition loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

“It would have been nicer to get the win, but it was a good experience,” said Schira, a 22-year-old from Spiritwood, Sask. “I heard a lot about Montreal, so for this to be my first game was special.”

The Senators defence is in for an overhaul after losing Andy Sutton and Anton Volchenkov in the off-season.

Coach Cory Clouston had veteran Chris Phillips with second-year attacking defenceman Erik Karlsson in what could well be the top defence pair this season. They were on the ice for a pair of Montreal goals in the second period, but showed promise as a pair that can play at both ends.

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Schira is among a group of young blue-liners knocking on the door, along with Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba, who were also in the lineup, and Jared Cowen, who sat this one out.

“I see myself as someone who is going to play in the NHL,” said Schira. “I felt great. I had to get used to the speed, but after that I thought I played well.”

Wiercioch, a second-round pick in 2008 who joined the Senators from the University of Denver, got 21:41 of ice time, third-most on defence after the top pair. The six-foot-three Gryba finished minus-1 and dropped the gloves with Montreal centre Ryan White.

“We’re happy with him,” Clouston said of Wiercioch. “He’s going to be a very good defenceman.”

The same two teams meet Saturday night in Ottawa.