What goes around has come around for Mark Borowiecki.
Borowiecki, the determined defenceman who will be pushing hard for a full-time spot on the Ottawa Senators roster when training camp opens in September, represented hockey royalty to two dozen young summer campers at the Bell Sensplex Wednesday. Borowiecki played in a spirited game of road hockey in the parking lot, followed by an autograph session, smiling and laughing throughout.
The summer fun and games with young fans came naturally enough. In fact, for Borowiecki, who turns 23 today, there was a sense of deja-vu about the whole experience.
Not so long ago, he was in their skates, a minor hockey player looking up to Ottawa-born and raised NHL players, growing up off Terry Fox Drive, in the shadows of the Sensplex and Scotiabank Place. Current Senators president Cyril Leeder and former Senators president and general manager Randy Sexton even served as coaches for Borowiecki during his minor hockey days in Kanata.
“I remember doing these camps when I was young,” says Borowiecki, who was drafted in the fifth round (139th overall) at the 2008 entry draft, held at Scotiabank Place. “I remember Darren Pang and Mike Eastwood and those guys coming and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I guess it’s kind of cool to give back a little.”
There’s more where Borowiecki comes from. The current group of players with Ottawa-area ties within the Senators organization is no accident. Ottawa 67′s stars Shane Prince and Cody Ceci, along with Gatineau’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Francois Brassard, are all teenage prospects hoping to have a future with the NHL team. None of them know an NHL without the Senators in it. Defenceman Marc Methot, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Canada Day trade for left winger Nick Foligno, was seven years old when the Senators knocked off the Montreal Canadiens in their franchise opener at the Civic Centre, just a few kilometres from where he grew up.
During his years here, Senators general manager Bryan Murray has tried to put at least a small local stamp on the team each season, bringing back players such as Shean Donovan, Luke Richardson, Matt Carkner, Jesse Winchester, Brendan Bell and Randy Robitaille. Yet never before have there been so many players with direct ties to the community.
From a competitive point of view, Murray believes players push themselves that much harder while playing in front of family, friends and old coaches and neighbours.
“I’ve always felt that if a player is of somewhat equal ability (to another player), then having a local guy is beneficial,” said Murray, a native of Shawville on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. “Maybe there’s a little more pressure, but good players handle that. Sure, there are some players who don’t like to play in Canada because of the pressure, but there’s a mental toughness to playing at home. They see it as a reward to play in front of people they know. The players have to do it on a nightly basis.”
Murray also suggests that many Senators fans relate better to skaters from their own backyard.
“In a city like Ottawa, where a lot of minor hockey takes place, it’s a bit of a reward for a community,” Murray says. “I would like to think there’s more interest in the community for a guy if he played here.”
Leeder agrees. While there are no studies on whether the team sells more tickets based on whether a player is from here, Leeder says there’s plenty of “anecdotal” evidence that fans appreciate players who have a community connection.
According to Leeder, when a player is familiar with the city, it also makes it easier for him to lend his name and time to community events and charitable causes. Hence, the appearance of Borowiecki at Wednesday’s summer camp.
Fans should also expect Methot to re-acquaint himself with the fans in his home city through community events. Only days after he arrived in the trade for Foligno, he talked about being “overwhelmed” and “passionate about playing here in my home city.”
For his part, Borowiecki couldn’t imagine anything better.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but it is like a dream,” says Borowiecki, who has returned to his old home after spending three seasons at Clarkson University and last year in Binghamton of the American Hockey League. “You grow up a Sens fan and you get drafted by the Sens, and hopefully I get a chance to play here. There’s always that little bit of extra pride and you want to help the team. I grew up a huge fan and it means a lot to me to get that chance.”
All-time Ottawa Senators players with Ottawa-area connections
Derek Armstrong 9GP, 2G, 0A, 2 Pts.
Jamie Baker 76GP, 19G, 29A, 48 Pts.
Brendan Bell 53GP, 6G, 15A, 21 Pts.
Mark Borowiecki 2GP, 0G, 0A, 0Pts.
Matt Carkner 161GP, 7G, 21 A, 28 Pts.
Randy Cunneyworth 276GP, 36G, 59 A, 95 Pts.
Shean Donovan 177GP, 12G, 15A, 27 Pts.
Denis Hamel 52GP, 5G, 3A, 8 Pts
Mike Hoffman 1GP, 0G, 0A, 0 Pts.
Zenon Konopka 55GP, 3G, 2A, 5 Pts.
Jim Kyte 4GP, OG, 1A, 4 Pts.
Corey Locke 5GP, 0G, 1A, 1 Pt.
Steve Martins 70GP, 9G, 7A, 16 Pts.
Brad Shaw 149GP, 11G, 53A, 64 Pts.
Serge Payer 10GP, 0G, 1A, 1 Pt.
Dan Quinn 41GP, 13G, 18A, 31 Pts.
Luke Richardson 78GP, 2G, 7A, 9 Pts.
Jamie Rivers 47GP, 2G, 4A, 6 Pts
Randy Robitaille 68GP, 10G, 19A, 29 Pts.
Todd White 230GP, 58G, 86A, 144 Pts.
Jesse Winchester 233GP, 11G, 41A, 52 Pts.
Jason York 380GP, 25G, 99A, 124 Pts.