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Senators set to honour netminder Anderson with a proper sendoff Tuesday

OTTAWA — Craig Anderson didn’t get the opportunity to leave Ottawa with a proper sendoff, but that will be rectified Tuesday night when the 42-year-old signs a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Senators.
Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson awaits resumption of play against the San Jose Sharks during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, March 7, 2020. Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion says longtime Senators goaltender Anderson will not be offered a new contract by the NHL club. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Josie Lepe

OTTAWA — Craig Anderson didn’t get the opportunity to leave Ottawa with a proper sendoff, but that will be rectified Tuesday night when the 42-year-old signs a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Senators.

Anderson spent 10 seasons with the Senators, posting a 202-168-46 record, to become the franchise’s all-time leader among goaltenders in games played at 435.

“I think when (Anderson) came to Ottawa he found his place,” said Senators former goalie coach Pierre Groulx. “I think he relished being the guy there and playing in front of the Ottawa fans.”

Anderson and Groulx first crossed paths when the two were with the Florida Panthers in 2006 and became good friends. The relationship only deepened when Groulx was hired in Ottawa in 2016.

“I think one of the things that impressed me about Craig was that he knew how to shut it off when he needed to,” Groulx said. “He was always a competitor, but he was also relaxed and wasn’t tense about his game.

"He was probably one of the best readers of the game, like how he could read the play, and because of that his play was a lot calmer than other goalies.”

Little did Anderson know that a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 11, 2020, would be his final game in a Senators uniform. The next day he and so many others were caught off guard when the league suspended play due to concerns over COVID-19.

Later that fall Anderson was told the Senators would not be offering him a new contract.

Anderson went on to sign a contract with the Washington Capitals after a pro tryout. He played just four games with the Capitals during a shortened COVID-19 season.

In 2021 Anderson signed a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres and posted a 17-12-2 record in 31 games. The Sabres signed Anderson to a contract extension last season and the veteran netminder posted an 11-11-2 record.

Anderson’s final game was a 4-3 overtime win against the Senators this past April. After the game he officially announced his retirement.

In an effort to give Anderson the sendoff he never had, the Senators will honour its former goaltender in a pre-game ceremony before their game against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

"I’m glad they’re doing it right for him,” said former Ottawa teammate and close friend Bobby Ryan. “I think there was a bit of a feeling of being underappreciated with how things ended, but it was somewhat evident to him and I that year that the future was changing and we weren’t going to be a part of it any longer.”

Before Anderson’s arrival in Ottawa, the Senators had been searching for stability in goal. From 2005 until the trade that brought Anderson to Ottawa, the Senators had 10 different goaltenders play at least one game.

Throughout his tenure in Ottawa, Anderson had many impressive games, but it was his 37-save performance in a 2-0 win in Edmonton that many will fondly remember.

Early in the 2016-17 season Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with cancer and he briefly left the team. At her urging he returned and in his first game back posted a shutout.

Anderson was named the game’s first star and took to the ice with tears streaming down his face.

“That night he probably played the most memorable game I’ve seen a goalie play,” said Groulx. “It was all on emotion. It was a tribute to Nicholle. It was a tribute to him and the person he is.”

Anderson took a leave of absence to be by his wife’s side, but chose to return after the NHL All-Star break to help the Senators down the stretch.

The Senators went on to beat the Boston Bruins and Tuuka Rask in the opening round of the playoffs and followed that with a series win over Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference Final to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, but lost in double overtime of Game 7.

“A lot of people would have completely understood if he didn’t come back that season,” said Ryan. “I was blown away that he came back and then to go on the run and be the cornerstone of our team again very quickly was incredible.

“He completely changed the look of our team and the makeup of the way we played at times. You knew that you were able to make mistakes because you have a guy back there completely ready to back you up.”

The year culminated with Anderson winning the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Anderson has a career record of 319-275-71 and ranks fifth among American-born goalies in wins and games played.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2023.

Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press