OTTAWA – The lavender signs rested in every stall of the Senators’ dressing room. As part of Hockey Fights Cancer Night, Ottawa players were encouraged to write down a name under “I fight for.” Some listed family members on the signs. Others listed Bryan Murray.
Most wrote Nicholle.
The NHL’s cancer awareness program is special in every arena, but it was off the charts in Canadian Tire Centre. Senators goaltender Craig Anderson recently announced his wife, Nicholle, has cancer, and he returned to the team Saturday after spending a few days with her.
“You try to focus on the two points and the task at hand, but there’s a lot surrounding the game for us as a team,” Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan said. “Sometimes, it makes you realize there’s a lot bigger things going on than a hockey game on Saturday night.”
Nicholle Anderson’s diagnosis has hit the Senators hard. The organization has watched Murray, the senior hockey adviser, fight cancer since 2014. Ryan’s mother succumbed to the disease this summer. It reared its ugly head in the dressing room last week.
Craig Anderson had an emotional shutout in Edmonton hours after the announcement, and the team has rallied together.
“It’s incredible when you’re affected by it,” Ryan said. “I felt like I was pretty sheltered toward the disease until last year, then you get hit with it individually and it seems to crop up again.
“It’s easier because you’re around guys that share the same common goal. You’ve got 20 individuals that are with you. When your train of thought’s getting away from you, you’ve got guys that can pull you back in.”
Heading into Saturday’s start against the Sabres, Anderson had stopped 69 of 70 shots in two victories since the announcement. He missed Thursday’s game against Vancouver to be with Nicholle.
“When he’s here, he’s in,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “His ability to focus is quite impressive. It’s easy to say, but to do? I’ve seen a lot of players that are good in focus in normal situations, but once you get to pressure situations it’s a whole different look.
“He’s displayed it on a few occasions now, and to see him be able to come back and focus is quite impressive.”
Anderson and the rest of the Senators wore a “Stick by Nik” sticker on their helmets. The goaltender, who is No. 41, wore No. 23 during warm-ups on his Hockey Fights Cancer sweater because it is Nicholle’s favorite number.
“He’s a very good goalie, but a good professional,” Sabres goaltender and former teammate Robin Lehner said. “You can’t really say much until you go through it yourself, and hopefully you never do. It’s pretty incredible that he can go through it like this and come up big.”
Sabres right wing and Ottawa native Nick Baptiste had dinner with his family after arriving home. Then he got ready to play in front of pretty much everyone he knows.
“There’s going to be a lot of people here, a lot of family, friends, teachers, people in the area,” Baptiste said. “My brother’s whole hockey team is coming.”
Baptiste played in the Senators’ arena as a kid and junior player.
“Those two jump out, but this will be the most memorable for sure,” he said.
There’s certainly no love lost between the Senators and Montreal, but even Ottawa had no desire to revel in the Canadiens’ shocking 10-0 loss to Columbus on Friday night.
“We talked about it this morning and everyone’s knocking on wood,” Ryan said. “Everybody’s been on that side of a rout, so even if they’re a rival you don’t say much about it.”