Mood turns quiet as Neil crashes into boards during practice

Mood turns quiet as Neil crashes into boards during practice

SHORT HILLS, New Jersey — It was supposed to be a bit of fun at the end of practice.
All the players assembled at centre ice and, after sorting out the rules, Zack Smith got the shootout started.
He tried to squeeze a shot through Ben Bishop but couldn’t.
Then came Chris Neil.
He came down with a lot of speed, missed the net with his shot, and then seemed to catch a skate just off the left post.
That sent him tumbling shoulders, back, and head into the boards.
At centre ice, everyone was laughing at what they thought was a pratfall. Neil is not the type of guy who gets hurt when he falls into the boards. Usually it’s the other way around.
But when Neil didn’t get up, and the trainers raced off the bench to him, the fun ended and the mood turned serious. Soon the whole team was surrounding Neil.
After several minutes, Neil was helped off the ice by his teammates. From the way he moved, very stiffly, the injury looked to involve the head, neck, shoulders, and back.
He didn’t make the trip to New Jersey for the team’s final regular-season game against the Devils, but there was no immediate word on the seriousness of his injury, or exactly what it involved.
“He’s one of the physical players on our team and he’s a veteran player who’s been (to the playoffs) before, so we would certainly miss him,” said coach Paul MacLean.
“But we’re not going to speculate on it right now. We don’t need to do that. We don’t know anything to speculate about. But we know he’s an important player.”
Losing Neil would be a blow to the Senators, especially in a series against the Bruins.
He’s the one Ottawa forward who is consistently a physical bother to the opposing team, as well as a no-nonsense defender of his teammates. That’s important against a team like the Bruins, who don’t tend to take prisoners.
“When he’s playing well, he makes us a better team,” said Jason Spezza.
“He doesn’t play a ton of minutes but his presence is felt on the ice.”
Neil is also having a good season offensively for someone who averages from 10-13 minutes a game.
Going into the final game, he has 13 goals and 15 assists, making this his best season since he had 28 points in 2006-07. His best season was in 2005-06 when he had 33 points.
“He’s done a great job for us this year,” said Nick Foligno.
“He’s a guy who puts his body on the line every night, and he’s come up big for us and scored some big goals.
“He’s a guy who’s been one of the leaders on the team and we’re hoping it’s nothing serious.”
As bad as they felt about the injury, the players felt worse that they were laughing as the accident unfolded, Foligno especially.
“We were all having a good time and then something like that happens, where he might actually be injured, it kind of takes the fun out of everything,” said Foligno.
“I saw him make a move and he just kind of toepicked and went into the boards. I chuckled at first, then I realized he wasn’t getting up so I felt pretty bad.
“I hope he’s all right because we’re going to need him going into the playoffs.”
MacLean wasn’t sure who would go into Neil’s spot against the Devils, but it does open the door for Bobby Butler, Kaspars Daugavins, and Zenon Konopka, all of whom were scratched against the Boston Bruins.
There’s also the chance that MacLean could chose to rest some players but as of Friday afternoon that wasn’t in his plans. He was leaning toward the same lineup he had against the Bruins, except that Craig Anderson will be in goal.

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