BY DON BRENNAN ,OTTAWA SUN
Scariest have to be the behemoths who are smiling when they’re beating on somebody.
You get the feeling Matt Kassian is that type of guy — even if he’s just grinning on the inside.
The 6-foot-4, 232-pound winger was clearly thrilled to be at Scotiabank Place as a Senator Thursday — even though it meant he had to leave his favourite poolside book-reading spot in Houston, where it was 25C, and now has to buy himself a winter coat.
“I was kind of expecting Prime Minister Harper to be waiting for me at the airport,” Kassian, who was obtained Wednesday from the Minnesota Wild for a sixth-round pick, said playfully after his first practice in the new colours. “My flight was delayed, so that must have been why he couldn’t make it.”
The Senators rolled out the red carpet for him, as they should. After non-fighters like Chris Phillips, Kaspars Daugavins and Patrick Wiercioch have had to rush to the defence of fallen teammates in recent games, Ottawa can now boast having one of the toughest heavyweights in hockey.
According to fan voting on the web site dropyourgloves.com, Kassian has an unbeaten record of 29-0-25 in the NHL and AHL, combined, since he last lost a scrap. His list of dance partners is a who’s who of the game’s biggest and best brawlers.
“I’m not going to slot it anywhere, but I think all the guys who are heavyweights know who can throw and who can stand in there,” Kassian, 26, said when asked where he would rank himself among the top contenders. “Guys are so tough now. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night.
“I would say I can stand in there with anybody in the league. Obviously, there are guys you’re going to have a tougher time than with others. I think of the fights I have had in this league I’ve proved that I can and will stand in with guys, and do well against pretty much everybody. Not to say that’s always going to be the case, but I think I can stand in there right with the guys that are at the top.”
Kassian, a former second-round pick of the Wild, will wear No. 28 for Ottawa — the same number he wore with Minnesota before it was given to former Senator Zenon Konopka in the off-season. The Western Conference team had him playing for its AHL affiliate in Houston after acquiring Mike Rupp earlier this season.
“I love the physical game,” said Kassian, who spoke of the need for teams to have a ‘nuclear deterrent’ in an interview earlier this week. “I’m not out there to play patty-cakes, that’s for sure. It’s not soccer or basketball. I mean I’m out there to get a little gritty, dirty, and that’s what I’m going to do.
“I know my role, I know my game. I think I can play, I know I can play, in fact. It’s not just completely one-dimensional. It’s not like I’m going to be trying to step out of my means and try to do something completely ludicrous or ridiculous.
“I’m a simple, hard player. I’m hard on the forecheck, take pucks to the net. I’m good in the defensive zone. It’s something I’ve relied on and it has allowed me to get as far as I have in my career. Playing the game smart. Not just taking stupid penalties.
“I was raised to be a workhorse. Sometimes you’ve got to pull up your bootstraps, good, bad or indifferent. And you’ve got to just plow ahead.”
In his first practice, Kassian skated with Daugavins and Peter Regin. Coach Paul MacLean hinted the big man would make his debut in Buffalo Saturday afternoon, against John Scott and the Sabres.
“I thought he got up and down the rink fine,” said MacLean. “I think we’re going to take another day and evaluate it all, but there’s certainly a strong possibility of that, yes.”
That would be more than fine with Kassian, who already knew Guillaume Latendresse, Mike Lundin and Kyle Turris before joining the Senators.
“It’s a really good group. I already feel part of it,” he said. “The guys are very, very welcoming. Everyone is really, really good. Something Guillaume had said to me when I spoke to him on Tuesday …. it’s a group that really cares about each other, I think, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”
In the meantime, he plans on doing some reading indoors. Already with the reputation of being eager to converse on any subject, Kassian was asked his thoughts about the new pope.
“I didn’t get much of a chance, just the way the flights were, to look at it that much,” Kassian said. “What I got from it, it was a little bit of a surprise on some levels. But I don’t really know enough about that situation, or how the selection went. You might have to get back to me in a couple of days. Give me a chance to read the paper a little bit.”
Category: News & Views