Sens players have been popping by Bell Sensplex for Senators Summer Camps over the past two months and today longtime Ottawa forward Chris Neil made a visit to play ball hockey and sign some autographs for the kids in attendance.
After an intense game between the red team and black team, Neil stopped by to talk with some of the media members in attendance.
Here's what he had to say...
On camp opening in two weeks:
It's exciting. Obviously this is a fun time of year for us, we get to get away from the rink and relax, but coming out and doing stuff like this, spending time with kids at hockey camps, it's fun for us to be a part of. Through the season we get to do a bit of it, but it's more on-ice. This is a little change of pace, get out in the nice hot weather and get a little sweat in.
On his health:
You get bumps and bruises in the playoffs and through the whole year so you have to take the time to relax — not just physically, but mentally as well — so when you come back you're refreshed and rejuvenated and you feel like you're 20 again.
On how the shortened season impacted recovery:
I think with a shortened season you've probably seen a lot more injuries, so those guys that were injured a lot, that missed a lot of games, those guys are definitely going to feel a lot better. A condensed schedule, you're going every other night, you need that break to get away and to feel better. I think for the most part with our team, with the injuries we had last year, those guys are going to come back and feel way better than they did last year so I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a great year for us and I'm up for the challenge.
On the new roster:
Obviously you lose a guy like Alfie, he's hard to replace. He's been here so long, he's an unbelievable leader and a great friend in general on and off the ice. I've played with him my whole career so it's definitely going to be a change, but like I said, it's an opportunity for other guys to step up and we've seen it all last year with our team. We're a resilient group, any given night someone else is stepping up and performing for us. It's not just one individual that's going to win us hockey games, it's a full team effort. Alfie is the type of player that can step up and make a difference in a game, but (we're) bringing in a guy like Bobby Ryan who is going to be to do that as well. It just doesn't rely on Bobby either. It's a whole group effort and that's how we approach every game. It's a team system, it's a team game, not individual. That's a good motto to have and we've been successful with that.
On if the team is better:
You won't know until all the cards are laid down, but at the end of the day you're going in, you feel fresh for the start of the season and you want to get back to the playoffs. That's where you give yourself a chance to win the Stanley Cup and, at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. As long as you give yourself a chance to compete and play for the Stanley Cup, that's all you can ask for.
On the change in the locker room:
I've always said, Alfie has been an unbelievable leader in that locker room. He's not the most vocal guy, he used to lead by the way he played. He played hard, he always played with an edge and some grit. Everyone knew that the day it was coming to an end was sooner or later, he's not a spring chicken anymore. If it was a year or two left we would have had to have been looking for someone else anyway. He sped up the process and for us, as veterans in the locker room, it doesn't change a whole lot for what we've done in the past. We're still in the same role and still the same leadership. Obviously we lose the head guy, but it's an opportunity for other guys to step up, we've always said that. The Sens always give their players an opportunity. If it's in the minors you get a chance to come up and play. You're always getting an opportunity and that's what good franchises do.
On the captaincy situation:
I don't think it's a distraction. I think for that it'll sort itself out. We could go with three assistants and it's not going to make a difference. Just because you have a letter on your jersey doesn't mean you're the guy. When you're a veteran guy in the locker room you don't need to have a letter. I haven't had a letter — I had it a bit last year — but in previous years I was a leader in that locker room. You go out and lead by example and it's not just three individual guys leading the team, it's a whole team effort. It doesn't matter if you're a first year or 12 year vet. That's how we approach it and we'll always approach it that way.
On being a potential captain:
That stuff doesn't really bother me one way or the other. For me I just show up ready to play. That's been my motto and as soon as I throw that jersey on I'm ready to go. I think that's the way I approach it. If you've got a letter on your shirt it doesn't change the way I play.
On the youth of the team:
We'll be a little bit younger losing two old guys like Alfie and Gonch but those guys played like they were young guys. I think just because their age comes off our roster doesn't mean we're a young team. We've still got some veterans in there and they're able to step up and lead the way. I think for us, having a young team, it keeps the older guys motivated to play hard. You see these young guys coming up and giving it everything they've got. They want to look up to us and make sure we're doing it as well. You have to lead by example.
After he was done the group session, Neil had a one-on-one talk with Sens TV as part of the "NO HOCKEY TALK" series over the past couple of weeks. We found out a little bit more about his grilling skills and summer hobbies.
Take a look...
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