Sunday was the first day Ottawa Senators media were able to speak to individual players since the opening of training camp December 31.
Due to Ontario Provincial Health regulations, media are not allowed to view practices/scrimmages at this time. So, it was a great comfort to actually receive first impressions from Senators’ players, Thomas Chabot, Erik Gudbranson, Brady Tkachuk, and especially hear their unique stories on being named alternate captains for the upcoming season.
First, Senators head coach D.J. Smith led off Sunday’s media availability with a few nuggets of his own.
Centre Chris Tierney will not participate in scrimmages in the early-going due to a minor injury. However, Tierney is able to skate in regular drills.
Matt Murray’s wife, Christina gave birth to the first child a baby girl. The Senators’ goaltender will miss a couple of days to be with his family.
Acquired from the Lightning, Braydon Coburn and Cedric Paquette hope to be on the ice later this week.
Derek Stepan arrives in Ottawa today. Smith said the club is talking with the league as to when Stepan can start training with the team.
There’s some consideration the 30-year will also be added to the Senators’ new leadership group. Stepan has been worn an “A” for the past six seasons, three with the New York Rangers, and three for the Coyotes. Smith added the team won’t name a captain this season.
“No, we’re going to go the year without it. When you have guys like Gudbranson and Stepan – guys that have have been around a long time – they can shoulder it without having a “C” on their chest. When the times are tough, they’ve been through it. I think it’s key you don’t put it all on a young guys shoulders. I think we’re making the right decision in not having those guys having to burden those questions on a daily basis, and allow some of the older guys to help them,” said the Senators’ head coach.
On handing Stepan an “A,” “I just don’t want to count him out. He hasn’t been in the room, and I don’t want to pressure on him either. He may be able to lead without giving him a letter, but when someone is out, he’s a guy that’s been around the league a long time – and possibly lead in that scenario. I’m not counting out anything going forward. One of the reasons he was brought in was to be a leader in that room. Whether he wears one or not, we’re going to rely on him big time for leadership,” Smith explained.
Thomas Chabot donned an “A” on his sweater briefly during the 2019-20 campaign, but was thrilled to be officially named a Senators’ alternate captain Saturday.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) January 2, 2021
“It’s definitely a great honour. Obviously, I had the chance to wear it a little bit last year, but now for it to be official, obviously it’s great. We talked a lot about being leader. It’s something I want to bring to this team. It’s also something I don’t necessarily put pressure on myself. It’s a huge honour to have a letter on your jersey. It means a lot for sure,” said the soon-to-be 24-year old.
Chabot’s first defensive partner may very well be Gudbranson, another one of the team’s new alternate captains. Last season’s NHL time-on-ice leader (26:01 per game) lends his thoughts on Gudbranson and a blue line bolstered during the offseason.
“It’s been great so far. Obviously, I’ve been practicing quite a lot with Gudbranson. It’s been great so far. He’s a big guy, strong guy, he skates really well and moves the puck really well. At this point, we’re only Day Four of training camp, we’re still learning to play with each other – getting to know each other on the ice. So far it’s been great,” Chabot told Full Press NHL.
“Josh Brown is the same kind of player. He’s a big guy. Those two guys are definitely going to help our back end. We’re definitely going to have some younger guys there. To have a guy like Gudbranson who’s been around awhile, is going to be good for us.”
Upon being dealt to the Senators from Anaheim, Gudbranson knew immediately, he’d be one of the club’s leadership core.
“At the time when I got traded, I was one of the oldest guys on the team. When speaking to D.J. and Pierre (Dorion) at the time, it was made pretty clear that was part of why I was coming here. It was super-exciting,” noted Gudbranson who turns 29 January 7.
“When we got here and more conversations, it started to work out well. And it’s been a lot of fun to be here.”
Raised in the east suburbs of Ottawa, Gudbranson played his minor hockey in the area until joining the Ontario League Kingston Frontenacs for the 2009-09 campaign. The importance of returning to play in his hometown only made him emotional upon learning he will be wearing a letter this season.
“It’s one thing to come back to your hometown team. I had this conversation with my wife, Sarah last night. It kind of hit me, how cool it was. It’s one of those things that Ottawa has been a big piece of me in doing that – just the city in general, Blackburn Hamlet and Orleans, and all of the people that helped me grow up here, and to eventually come back here and play. I feel that this is kind of a representation of them and everything that we’ve gone through as a community,” an elated Gudbranson said.
“I had a buddy text me last night. He said, “It’s pretty cool a Blackburn Stinger is an assistant captain for the Sens now.” That set me off. I sat there thinking about. It was pretty cool.”
Like Chabot, Gudbranson can hardly wait to work with his potential D partner.
“It’s been really good. He’s a pretty easy guy to play with. His level of talent is incredible. He’s got balls too. He plays the game the right way. He’s not scared of trying things. His confidence is constantly going up, but he doesn’t get phased by things. He’s going to try things. And so far working with him has been pretty seamless.”
Being born into a hockey family, the third member of the Senators 2021 “A” team, Brady Tkachuk certainly understands it’s importance.
“It’s a huge honour. It’s something that I will take very serious. It’s not going to change who I am, how I play. I’m going to try to lead by example, try to play the way I play. I play with a lot of energy, play the right way. I’m definitely very honoured, and happy that I’ve got this opportunity,” stated the mature 21-year old.
Brady looked to his dad, Keith for some fatherly advice. The elder Tkachuk said, “Everybody is different. Some guy are pretty vocal. Some guys lead by example, it’s to find that medium and not overstep. You’re still a young guy and stuff like that. His message is; just lead by example, keep playing the way you’re playing – play hard, play physical, and demand a lot of yourself – drag guys into the play was kind of his message.”
“For me and my experience, there’s plenty of great leaders in there and were established leaders before they came here. It’s not just going to be ” “Goo,” “Chabby” and myself to bounce ideas off one another, lean on each other. There’s a big group that are helping each other. That’s what’s great about being here so far, even with the new guys – everybody just wants to win. It’s a great team atmosphere.”