Senators at the four-front in 2012 NHL all-star game
Quartet of Ottawa players land spots in Jan. 29 mid-season affair at Scotiabank Place
|Jason Spezza (left) and Daniel Alfredsson were teammates at the 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta. Four years later, they'll head to the mid-season showcase, being held in Ottawa for the first time, along with Senators teammates Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. All four were voted into the game, thanks to massive support by Sens fans (Getty Images).
As the Ottawa Senators gathered near the boards during their pre-game skate this morning, head coach Paul MacLean directed the players' attention to the new centre-hung scoreboard Scotiabank Place. Displayed upon it was a sight that stunned them all — a congratulatory message four a quartet of Senators voted into the 2012 Tim Hortons All-Star Game by a fan base that hit the ballot box with a remarkable fury over the last five days.
When all the votes were counted, the Senators had done what most observers likely considered the impossible, claiming all three available forward positions for the Jan. 29 mid-season showcase at Scotiabank Place. While captain Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza were considered virtual locks to land spots, fans pushed Milan Michalek up to the third forward position. The Czech winger had trailed Toronto's Phil Kessel by more than 144,000 votes as of last Friday, but finished better than 42,000 in front of the Maple Leafs' sniper.
In addition, Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson soared past Kessel to claim the most overall votes with a staggering total of 939,591. Alfredsson led all forwards with 897,055, followed by Spezza (817,483) and Michalek (743,977). Ottawa's Sergei Gonchar just missed joining Karlsson in the all-star game, finishing about 10,000 votes behind the Leafs' Dion Phaneuf.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins topped all goaltenders with 626,540 votes.
"It's awesome," Alfredsson, who'll make his sixth all-star appearance, said in summing up the reaction of the four Senators voted into the game. "Thanks to everybody who voted and made this possible. It's a treat for all of us and to see that Milan got in as well ... he deserves to be there with the start he's had.
"It's great to see all four of us getting in. If we had to choose one player representative, it would have been tough. They've all played great to start the season and to be able to get in when the game is in Ottawa ... it's going to be a special occasion for all of us. It's something we'll cherish forever, I'm sure."
Added Spezza, who'll play in his second all-star game: "We're pretty excited and really appreciative of the fan support that we got. To get four of us voted in is pretty special. It shows how much the fans are behind us. It's quite an honour to be voted in by your fans and shows how passionate the fans are about the game and how excited they are that the game is coming to the city."
Michalek couldn't be more enthused that his all-star debut will happen in Ottawa.
"It's a big thing (for me). It's one of my dreams and I'm happy that I'm here."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean also lauded the fans for their efforts in supporting a group of players he believes "deserve to be in the game." With 40 points (14-26), Spezza currently ranks 11th in NHL scoring, while Karlsson (5-32-37) tops all NHL blueliner in points. Michalek was leading the league in goal-scoring before missing five games with a concussion, and Alfredsson has fuelled the team's current 6-1-1 streak with a pair of overtime game-winning goals.
"A big reason why our team has had success to this point is the play of these four players," said MacLean, who's directed the surprising Senators to a 20-15-5 start, good for sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. "They've been a big, big part of the success that we've had in helping us change the culture and the attitude.
"It's a great credit to them and to our fans for them to have the opportunity to play in the all-star game here in Ottawa."
Another 36 players will be selected by the NHL to play in the game, with the two squads being picked in a draft set for Jan. 26 at Casino Lac-Leamy in Gatineau. There is a strong sentiment that Alfredsson will be one of the captains making the selections, and it's an opportunity he'd relish if it's offered.
"I'd love to be one (of the captains)," he said. "We'll see what happens."
His first pick? Alfredsson figures there's only one choice.
"Probably Erik," he said of his fellow Swede. "(My) kids wouldn't have it any other way."
Around the boards
Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, who suffered a mild concussion during Monday's 3-2 overtime triumph over the New Jersey Devils, won't play tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). But MacLean said there's a chance he could be available this weekend, when the Senators and Philadelphia Flyers play a home-and-home series. "(Phillips) worked out yesterday and rode the bike today," said MacLean. "I believe he's doing the neuro-sight test tonight and he's possible for the weekend, which is positive for us" ... Craig Anderson gets the start in goal for Ottawa against the Bolts.