KANATA, Ont. — Wins and losses are much harder to predict than the weather for an Ottawa Senators charity golf tournament.
Teams will run hot and cold, but Senators players know they can count on being greeted by a damp course and blustery conditions for their annual pre-camp round of golf.
The wind gusts were strong enough to blow over two of the portable promotional pillars advertising the event at Loch March. One of the pillars crashed and cracked, sparking Spartacat, the team mascot, to helpfully sit down in front of it, bracing it with his back.
Neither wind nor chill could dampen the enthusiasm at this first official gathering of the season.
Not when the new owner-in-waiting of the NHL club, Michael Andlauer, was there to greet everyone on the site, shaking hands and sharing in the pre-season excitement.
Andlauer’s approval by the NHL Board of Governors is due any day now — like a Canada Post delivery — causing him to be slightly more circumspect than he would have been with league approval.
“I probably shouldn’t be here today, officially,” Andlauer said, grinning while taking the microphone for a brief moment to greet sponsors, team members, staff and media at Tuesday’s event.
“I didn’t want to wait another year, just because I wasn’t officially the owner of the team,” Andlauer added.
As he explained, he didn’t want to miss this unofficial launch of the season, and he wanted to support the Senators Foundation and its great work in the community for youth mental health initiatives.
As the tournament got underway, Andlauer planted himself at the 16th hole, where he greeted the golfing foursomes as they came through.
Captain Tkachuk won’t let expectations be a distraction
One of the many signs that Ottawa’s players showed up early and have been skating together for a couple of weeks — their messaging is as co-ordinated as their puck drills.
Newly married captain Brady Tkachuk, veteran winger Claude Giroux and young superstar Tim Stützle all spoke separately to a clutch of reporters on the scene, and none of the three leaders wanted to verbalize a goal of reaching the playoffs this season. (Clearly newly extended Jake Sanderson went rogue two weeks ago when he spoke about winning a championship in Ottawa within two years).
I get it. Players don’t want to add to the outside pressures already on them to earn a playoff berth for the franchise for the first time since 2017. Although, I’m not sure how much difference it makes — saying or not saying the words. Inside the room, you know they are hellbent on ending a six-year playoff drought.
“We have a standard belief internally but we’re going to keep that internal,” Tkachuk says, when asked about expectations for the Senators in 2023-24. “Just because, if you put a mark on where we think we’re going to finish, the expectation and distraction would probably be too much. So it’s just — we have faith and belief amongst each other we’ve just got to focus on day to day and being at our best every day.”
Giroux, who broke into the NHL with Philadelphia in 2007, says he can’t recall a team assembling earlier before the season than the Senators players have this summer. He views that as a readiness to succeed, guys are “hitting the gas a bit more.” Not that Giroux wanted to speak against the living-for-the-moment philosophy espoused by Tkachuk. In fact, Giroux might well be the source of this strategy of sitting in the weeds as far as expressing big expectations.
“I personally don’t think you look at the big picture,” Giroux says. “You’ve gotta go one game at a time. When you start looking at the big picture it takes a lot of energy off you and you overthink stuff. So really, just worry about the first game and then we’ll worry about the second game after that.”
According to Tkachuk, the approach to training camp is to be “dialled in” on details right from the start. He feels the team has the talent and experience now which, with a proper approach, the results will take care of themselves.
“We’re always going to bring it with our work ethic,” Tkachuk says. “That’s our identity as a team and organization. That we’re never going to take a day off.”
Don’t be fooled by the laid-back chatter.
Tkachuk wants it so badly he can taste it, especially after hanging out with his brother, Matthew, during the Florida Panthers playoff run last spring. Brady stayed with his brother for much of that experience and says he learned from his older sibling the necessary ingredients of staying calm and in the moment.
Maybe it’s Ottawa’s turn to have a busy spring.
“There’s definitely a different vibe,” Tkachuk says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a season before. And I think I can speak on behalf of everybody — there are so many positive vibes right now.”
Stützle is so gung-ho about the group’s possibility he practically cringed when someone asked if he was ready to go out and score 50 goals. He had 39 last season.
“For me it’s totally not about putting up 50 goals, it’s more about winning,” Stützle says. “We’ve got to win as a team and if I can help score goals, yeah, that’s awesome, but I’ve got to be better in my two-way game. And have to be able to play in all situations. I think I progressed a lot last year and now it’s just time to win some more games.”