OTTAWA – Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk says disgruntled fans who stay away from Scotiabank Place because of the NHL lockout will be missing out.
Melnyk said the fans will want to be part of the Senators’ shortened 48-game season that begins next Saturday. The Senators will play the Jets in Winnipeg and will have their home opener Jan. 21 against the Florida Panthers.
“My message to the fans to come out and support the team, you’re going to want to be part of this because this is going to be a great, great team for the coming years if not immediately and you don’t want to be left out in the cold,” Melnyk said at a news conference before the Senators opened training camp Sunday.
“As a die-hard fan, you are part of this organization. I just want you guys back.”
Winning some fans back could prove difficult. Some showed anger or indifference the 113-day lockout, which officially ended Saturday when the players ratified the new CBA.
Some teams around the league are offering incentives to try and bring paying customers back into the arenas, and the Senators are no different.
Among the offerings to the fans is free parking on opening night, free admission to kids 14 years of age and younger in four of the first 10 home games, $1 popcorn and pop in seven of the first 10 games and half price merchandise up until the end of opening night at home.
“For all of our fans, we know you love Senators hockey and have missed the games these last few months,” team president Cyril Leeder said. “We’re sorry that you had to miss those games and we can’t get those games back, but we can make the remaining 48 game meaningful and important to you.”
Melnyk said that wins rather than discounts and giveaways is the best way to appease fans after four months of bitterness.
“Other than free hot dogs, although they’re important, the most important thing that we can give is to have these players come out every night and deliver you a winning team,” Melynk said. “Ownership for me is secondary to the passion. I’m sorry for all of us because we had to endure these four months.”
On the ice, the Seantors opened their camp with a long, fast-paced skate.
“It was exactly what we needed. Fast paced, up tempo, good skating practice and it was great to get it under our belt,” forward Kyle Turris said after the Senators skated for an hour, took a break while the ice was resurfaced and then went out for another hour.
“I’m expecting fast paced, 200-foot practices the rest of the week. That’s the way we do it in the season and that’s the way we’re going to do it in camp to get ready for Saturday.”
The shortened camp will see the Senators hold the same type of practices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday before they fly to Winnipeg.
Daniel Alfredsson, the team’s 40-year-old captain, says he likes the camp as it is this year, especially the fact that there will be no exhibition games.
“Exhibition games, except for the last two when you play with the team you’re going to start the season with, don’t do anything for me,” he said. “Practising and going over systems and special teams is more important.”
There were 27 bodies at camp Sunday with very few spots available. One competition is for the job of backup goaltender behind suspected starter Craig Anderson between Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner.
There will be at least one spot open on the blue-line following the hip injury to Jared Cohen in October that ended his season while playing with the Binghamton Senators.
“Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki are both young guys on defence and they both have a chance to play with the way they’ve played down in Binghamton,” coach Paul MacLean said.
“We need at least one defenceman with the injury to Jared Cowen so one of those two guys right now is going to get an opportunity to play on our team.”
MacLean had certain line combinations during practice Sunday but he stressed he is simply trying to see which players fit well together.
“It might end up the way it is now on Saturday (with the lines) but I can pretty much guarantee you that the next few days are not going to be the same. We’re here to see who they can play with,” MacLean said.
“I was pleased with the pace of the way it went. I thought the conditioning level of the team was very good and we just have to continue to build on that.”
Forward Jason Spezza is knows it’s going to be a grind from right now until the end of the season with a tough camp and a tight regular-season schedule.
“There are going to be some tough and some long days but I think it will be good for us and if we put the time in now hopefully it pays off at the start of the season to make sure we’re sharp,” Spezza said.