Kyle Bukauskas Notebook: How a confident Senators group is changing

Ottawa Senators right wing Evgenii Dadonov (63) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during overtime NHL hockey action in Toronto on Monday, February 15, 2021. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Every other Thursday, Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas will give you a peek behind the curtain and share stories about what he sees and hears in his job as a rink side reporter.

Here’s this week’s collection:

1. I wondered if Evgenii Dadonov would have made some kind of speech in the Senators dressing room amidst the celebration in the aftermath of that historic comeback on Monday in Toronto. I pictured Dadonov in the middle of the room, front teeth still missing after a face plant in Edmonton a few weeks ago, borrowing a line from Russell Crowe in Gladiator, the rest of the team roaring in approval.

Apparently, none of that happened. But it was still a fun scene post-game.

“We all laughed at how hard we celebrated,” one player told me. The Sens haven’t had a ton to cheer about this year. The blowouts have been well-documented, there’s also been several games that left D.J. Smith adamant they were the better team and yet the result was another loss.

For a team that needs to at least show some tangible progress this season, I’m curious what their record will look like from that night onwards.

“We are continuing to prove to ourselves we can play too,” the player said. “Sometimes it’s a win like that that brings the group even closer together and could maybe even change the way we play going forward.”

2. One phrase Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher will bring up from time to time when things aren’t going well is: frustration is a wasted emotion.

That comes from a book written by Muhammad Ali that Gallagher’s dad, Ian, had him read when he was in Grade 4. It’s a line that has stuck with him ever since.

Things didn’t look great for the Habs early in the third period last Saturday. Down 1-0 to the Leafs, they had been shutout their previous five periods and were staring down a third consecutive loss heading into a week-long break.

Instead, Gallagher made a play along the wall to help setup the tying goal. Then did his thing in front of the net to score what wound up being the winner. Losing skid ended, and a much different narrative in the white-hot market of Montreal this week.

It sure beats getting frustrated.

3. Jason Spezza feels his pace is higher now than it’s been in the last few years. A big reason for that was his ability to incorporate running and sprint work into his off-season training again last fall.

It was something he used to do a lot of early in his career. Then he had back surgery in 2013 and those types of workouts would re-aggravate some of those issues.

Thankfully for Spezza, his body can handle it again and he put the work in for months with the Leafs performance staff. At 37 years old, he has managed to get a little quicker.

4. It’s hard to believe Nick Suzuki was once labelled as “lazy” by some as a minor hockey player. He was a player who wouldn’t always move his feet and that was a problem in certain people’s eyes.

Of course, we know now he reads the game with his brain, not his legs.

Speed has never been a big asset to Suzuki’s game. Shortly after he was drafted to the Owen Sound Attack in 2015, his dad, Rob, went to a London Knights playoff game with a friend. Their seats were a couple rows from the ice and as Rob watched how fast the game was, he wondered if his son would be able to keep up with the pace of play at that level.

Two years later, Suzuki was a first-round pick in the NHL draft. He learned how to adapt and then excelled.

His production has quieted a little bit with just three assists in his last six games, but if history is any indication, Suzuki’s intelligence and problem solving won’t allow that to last much longer.

5. Wednesday night was the most minutes the Senators’ Josh Norris has logged in a game yet this season at 17:29 and it may have been the most confident he has looked in an NHL uniform.

Norris is known to be very athletic. When he was part of the US Development Program U18 team, before the season started one of their coaches, Nick Fohr, had the team over at his place for a BBQ.

At one point in the night, Fohr was walking by as some of the kids were playing hoops in his driveway. All of a sudden he sees Norris, who is now listed at 6-foot-2, dunking on his teammates. Norris never played organized basketball growing up outside of a couple camps, but here he was posterizing his peers.

Norris wasn’t overly outspoken back then, Fohr said. More of a quiet leader that had a good sense of what was expected of him and what he expected of himself. He seems to be getting more comfortable with his surroundings on a Sens team that will give him a chance to play in every situation this year.

6. A little over a year into my time at Sportsnet, I found myself sitting across from Sid Seixeiro at an Irish pub in downtown Toronto with a plate of blarney chips between us.

As we polished those off, Sid offered some advice: you need to find your circle of 10-15 people in your life (close colleagues, boss, partner, parents, close friends, etc.) who you care about what they think of you. The rest don’t matter. I’ve never forgotten that.

Best of luck in the move to Breakfast Television next month, Sid. It’s never too early for blarney chips, right?

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