Remembering John Muckler as the Next Generation of Senators take center stage

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Young Senators Josh Norris and Colin White were atomic-age hockey players when John Muckler led Ottawa to their franchise’s first modern-day Stanley Cup Final.
Speaking to Norris and White during Zoom calls on Tuesday, it was hard not to think of Muckler, a gaming giant and big deal in the nation’s capital when the Senators regularly posted 100-point seasons.

General manager of the Senators from 2002 to 2007, Muckler was a five-time Stanley Cup winner as an assistant and then head coach of the Edmonton Oilers dynastics in the 1980s. He died Monday at the age of 86. . He will also be missed in Buffalo, a hockey town he called home as the Sabers’ head coach and general manager in the 1990s.

In June 2007, when White would have been 10 and Norris eight, Muckler led a Senators team coached by Bryan Murray to a five-game victory over the Sabers in the Eastern Conference Finals before falling. against the Anaheim Ducks in five games. final.

Prior to that Cup final series, Muckler had put his fifth and final Edmonton Cup ring on his finger while speaking to reporters in Ottawa. The ring was from the 1990 championship, won by Muckler as the head coach of an Oilers team that achieved the feat without the great Wayne Gretzky, then a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

“This one’s for Jenny,” Muckler said, playing with the ring on his finger and noting that he had promised his youngest daughter it, but only after he could win that sixth ring with the Senators. .

This was not the case. Muckler and the Senators not only lost to Anaheim, but Muckler was fired shortly after and replaced as general manager by Murray.

How things have changed in Ottawa over these 13 years.

Then, the Senators were a mature franchise, having peaked in their lean years of the early to mid-1990s as an expanding franchise. It was Muckler who brought former Sabers superstar goaltender Dominik Hasek to Ottawa in 2005-06, a team that could have been the Senators’ best, but Hasek was injured at the Torino Olympics and failed. played in the playoffs.

After the 2007 race to the final, Ottawa began a brief period of rebuilding in 2011, followed by a deeper rebuild in 2018 and 19, which players like White and Norris hope to help turn around soon.

Senators offer their condolences

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, the man who replaced Muckler with Murray, offered his condolences to Muckler’s family for their loss.

“John had the heart of a champion, was an accomplished professional and a beloved family man,” Melnyk said in a statement released by the club. “For years, the Senators have always been Stanley Cup contenders because of his dedication and leadership.

“On behalf of the entire Senators organization, I want to extend our deepest condolences to John’s family, friends and everyone whose lives he touched in the hockey community.

White looks good and ready

White, 23, doesn’t know much about Muckler’s legacy, but he hopes to be part of the next wave of great hockey in Ottawa, which has been in reboot mode since a 2017 trip to the conference finals. . In fact, White is the only remaining player on this 2017 playoff team, having played just one postseason game after his NCAA season at Boston College.

White is eager to start his next chapter after a difficult 2019-20 season that saw him face the pressures of a new contract, loss of confidence and a serious groin injury in just nine games.

“I tried to play through, to resist, and it just wasn’t working for me,” White says. “I had to turn it off.

“I came back, felt pretty good, and then I had a lump or bruise again. It was a difficult year.

“(These) nine months (have been) wonderful in getting my body healthy. I feel the strongest of my life. ”

Less than two weeks after Ottawa’s last game on March 11, White was in the gym.

“One of my big states of mind was gaining weight, and a good weight too,” he says.

Head Coach DJ Smith continues to be impressed with White at camp. On Tuesday, White was at the center of a line with Nick Paul and Austin Watson.

“He was very good, he came back with renewed confidence,” says Smith. “He’s bigger, stronger. And he just gets to work.

Smith reckons White put the pressure on himself last season and struggled against opposing crosses on the first two rows. It will be better equipped this season.

“The central plaza is a real battle right now,” White says. “It’s about making sure that you come in every day, that you’re doing the right things, and that you’re trying to get into that range.”

If White holds a top-six spot, he might just have Brady Tkachuk or rookie Tim Stuetzle on his left side.

“All the guys in training you want to play with right now,” White says. “It’s really exciting to see how our team is forming.”

Norris hails Stepan’s experience

Just days before training camp, Norris’ chances of making it into the starting lineup changed when GM Pierre Dorion brought in center veterans Derek Stepan and Cedric Paquette. Norris, 21, insists he didn’t let the movements bother him.

“I can’t control this,” Norris said. “They’re making acquisitions to improve the team and from my perspective these guys have been in the league for a long time and I can learn from that.

“They are very smart players and good players. Cedric is already there and Stepan will be arriving in a few days. ”

In Tuesday’s drills, Norris was on a leading line with Tkachuk and Evgenii Dadonov.

“Chucky is a great player,” said Norris, “and Dadonov is skillful and smart with the puck.

“I’m not complaining about my line mates at the moment.”

Norris acknowledged that these were only the first few days and the full Ottawa roster won’t be ready until next week.

Quarantine indoor football

Tkachuk, Norris and White all returned to Ottawa over a month before camp and quarantined themselves together in a townhouse owned by former Senators forward Mark Stone.

“The first week was great and the second week we were a little tired of each other,” says Norris.

In addition to a home gym set up by Senators staff, Young Sens played numerous video games and watched the television series “The Last Kingdom”. When they were really bored, they would move a few sofas and play indoor football.

“Brady was the QB and I and Whitey were going one on one into the living room,” Norris says.

“Fortunately, we didn’t break or knock anything over. We were just trying to stay sane and have fun in quarantine.

And while White’s new muscle was apparent, Norris was just glad he didn’t have to tackle the quarterback.

“Luckily I didn’t have to face Chucky because he’s a lot taller than the two of us,” Norris said.

White plays with BizNasty

White lived on a golf course during the summer and played a lot of rounds, none more memorable than the one with the Spittin ‘Chiclets podcast team.

“I got to play with Spittin ‘Chiclets, a little game with BizNasty, Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney, it was a lot of fun,” White says.

“Change of life” for new dad Murray

Goalkeeper Matt Murray was back at work on Tuesday after his wife Christina gave birth to a baby girl. The couple keep the baby’s name private.

“Obviously it’s a life changing experience,” Murray said on a Zoom call. “Any parent can tell you that. This is our first baby. They are both fine. I couldn’t be happier.

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