For a small taste of the joie de vivre Ottawa Senators left winger Guillaume Latendresse owns, let’s take you back to late November in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, a good 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
Following a charity game in the Land of the Midnight Sun during the lockout, Latendresse and several Senators players showed up at a popular, folksy restaurant. Entrance included a ticket for the novelty daily door prize; whatever happened to be donated by a local on that night.
When Latendresse ended up winning it all – a crock pot, as it turns out – he raced to the dance floor and raised his prize high in the air, as if he had just won the Stanley Cup. After several minutes of celebration, dancing with his northern trophy, he signed the gift. It was later auctioned off for charity.
Latendresse, you see, will typically find the bright light in any situation he finds himself in.
Yet even he acknowledges that his latest injury problems – migraines and whiplash symptoms which kept him sidelined for 18 games – were wearing on him.
“Usually, I am a happy guy,” Latendresse said before leaving with the Senators for a return home to Montreal and Wednesday’s game against the Canadiens, who originally drafted him in the second round, 45th overall, of the 2005 entry draft.
“That was the toughest part. I wake up happy, whatever happens. But I was not that way (recently). Especially with all the injuries I have had the last few years, I didn’t want to come in (to Ottawa) and have injuries again. I’m just happy we found the problem with my head.”
Latendresse’s long-awaited return in Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss couldn’t have worked out better. On his first shift, a mere 55 seconds into the game, he scored on a breakaway. It was was first goal since joining the Senators and exactly 15 months since his previous goal – Dec. 11, 2011 while playing for the Minnesota Wild.
“It had been so long since the last time,” he said. “Relief is a good word. It just felt good to do it.”
SENATORS ADD MUSCLE: The Senators answered the need to become more physical by acquiring Matt Kassian from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a sixth round draft pick in 2014. Kassian, selected 57th overall by Minnesota in the 2005 NHL draft, has played in only 28 NHL games with Minnesota, registering two goals and 67 penalty minutes. He has spent the rest of his career with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Houston.
“I’m just incredibly excited,” said Kassian. “It’s going to be a great opportunity and it’s a great organization in the country that I was born in and raised in and it’s going to be exciting. Ottawa’s a beautiful city and I’ve always loved the place. Both me and fiancee are excited to be part of this.”
Kassian, 6-5 and 232 pounds, says there’s nothing complicated about his style. What you see is what you get.
“I’m not coming in with any delusions about being a 50-goal scorer or anything like that,” he said. ”It’s going to be a little bit of meat and potatoes, old-style hockey. I’m going to be a very physical player, a very tough presence. I’m going to try and be a little human HGH, try and make the guys grow a couple of inches out there. You want your players to play confident and feel comfortable out there in a very physical division, that’s in a very physical conference.”
Senators general manager Bryan Murray recognized the need for a player like Kassian in recent weeks.
“He is a very physical player, a very willing combatant and with the number of injuries and young players we have on our roster, there’s got to be a sense of comfort that they can go out and play without being pushed around, which has happened a couple of times here,” Murray said.
In the past two weeks, Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Patrick Wiercioch, none of whom have a history of physical play, have been forced to retaliate for questionable hits against their teammates.
Kassian is expected to arrive in Ottawa Wednesday, will join the team for practice Thursday and will likely travel to Buffalo Friday for Saturday’s game against the Sabres.
NEIL, GONCHAR EXPECTED TO PLAY: Right winger Chris Neil and defenceman Sergei Gonchar skipped practice Tuesday, but Senators coach Paul MacLean expects them to be in the lineup against Montreal Wednesday…Defenceman Mike Lundin, who suffered a concussion when hit by Philadelphia’s Harry Zolnierczyk on March 2, returned to practice in a “no contact” jersey, but there’s no timetable for his return to game action. “It’s a terrible thing to have a brain injury. The guys who have been through it are the guys checking on me, because they know how horrible it can be,” he said. Lundin has seen the video of the hit and says “it looked like he wanted to do some damage. If he could take it back, obviously he would. It was in the heat of the moment. He’s trying to be on the team. He’s trying to make an impact.”