Greening: a veteran rookie?

Colin Greening heard the constant applause. He took in the boos for Dany Heatley. He noticed the video scoreboard flashing the attendance of 19,445.

Through it all, he says it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the first home opening night of his NHL career.

“When you have that atmosphere, when you have that crowd, it gets you into the game,” said Greening, who scored the third period power play goal which tied the game 3-3 Tuesday, en route to the Senators 4-3 shootout victory. “You’re playing in front of a full house. You’re playing in the top league. It’s also pretty humbling, too.”

Yet if Greening is dealing with rookie nerves, uncomfortable in his surroundings, you would never know it.

He quietly went about his business in training camp, quite content that so much attention was being showered on higher profile rookies Mika Zibanejad, Jared Cowen, David Rundblad and Stephane Da Costa.

Why wouldn’t he have been happy? At 25, he had a guaranteed NHL contract and the inside track on a spot in the lineup every game, whether that meant a place on the first line or fourth line. Few observers would have expected him to be anywhere near the NHL after the Senators selected him in the 7th round (204th overall) of the 2005 entry draft, following a year as a student-athlete at Toronto’s Upper Canada College.

From there, he gradually developed and grew up. First, with Nanaimo in a B.C. junior league. Then on to Cornell University for four seasons, including a stint as captain. Last season, he was shuttled between Binghamton and the Senators, scoring six goals and seven assists in 24 big league games — one game under the maximum allowed to maintain rookie status.

So, while he might be considered a first year player — and yes, still eligible for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year — he’s no kid.

Perhaps that helps explain why he hasn’t suffered from the same inconsistencies as Zibanejad, Cowen and Rundblad either in training camp or at the start of the season. (Da Costa has also looked at home in the NHL, although he should be getting some instruction on keeping his head up to avoid big hits).

Greening has now scored in consecutive games. At various points in the first three games, he has shared a line with Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Zibanejad, the 18-year-old who was in awe playing against Swedish idols Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Lidstrom and Johan Franzen on the opening night of the season last Friday in Detroit.

 Greening owns the trust of new coach Paul MacLean, who had him stationed in the crease in front of Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom on the power play late in Tuesday’s game, where he found the loose puck and jammed it between the netminder’s legs.

“When you have that net presence (Greening is 6-3 and 212 pounds), it gives your more skilled guys, like Alfredsson and Spezza, time to shoot and goalies are not as prepared,” he said. “If I can get that little bit of an advantage, great.”

MacLean says Greening has come as advertised — “a big, physical, power forward” — and that the team is satisfied with what he has delivered so far.

Greening considers himself a “pretty mature guy”, with lots of “life experience, in terms of living on my own.” He figures he can “pick up things pretty quickly, as oppposed to when I was 17 and 18″.

He’s also not about to get carried away, just because he was tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead after three games.

“I still think there’s a lot of learning to do,” he said. “I looked at the video (from Tuesday’s game) and I still made some mistakes. They’re growing pains. Hopefully, you manage to reduce those as you go on.”

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