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Former Senators F Bonk optimistic about old team

Radek Bonk and Jacques Martin Radek Bonk and Jacques Martin - The Canadian Press

GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Radek Bonk lived through some dark early days with the Ottawa Senators.

The franchise eventually figured things out. Following a more recent period of turmoil, he again sees brighter days ahead.

Bonk, who calls the nation's capital home and watches his old team closely, understands the fan frustration felt under late owner Eugene Melnyk, but has been encouraged since a group led by Michael Andlauer bought the franchise.

A tough start to the 2023-24 campaign, meanwhile, led to the firing of D.J. Smith and the return behind the bench of Jacques Martin, who coached Bonk in Ottawa from 1996 through 2004.

"They have a good future," Bonk said at the world junior hockey championship where he's watching his son, Oliver, play for Canada. "It's been a tough four, five, six years and people are getting a little impatient. The change of coach will do good.

"New voice, a little bit more structure."

Bonk had 194 goals and 497 points in 969 NHL games over 14 seasons after being selected third overall at the 1994 draft by the Senators. He scored 12 times and added 15 assists in 73 playoff contests.

The 47-year-old expects Martin will get Ottawa pointed in the right direction — just like his first go-round.

"(Crappiest) team in the league and then Jacques came over," said Bonk, who also played for the Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators and five more years in the Czech Republic before retiring in 2014. "He gave us direction. Showed us that, 'Hey, you guys want to win, this is how you've got to play.'

"We became one of the best teams in the league."

Bonk added there was never any doubt where things stood with Martin. The same should go for the current Senators' core that includes Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris and Thomas Chabot.

"Holds you accountable," he said. "He'll be good for the younger kids. If they buy into his stuff, they'll be better."

The former centre looked back at the Senators teams that could never get over the hump — including in the 2003 Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils.

Ottawa was down 3-1 in that series, but won two straight to force Game 7 at home. Bonk tied things 2-2 in the third period when he blasted a slapshot past Martin Brodeur before Jeff Friesen broke Senators hearts with just over two minutes left in regulation.

The Devils went onto down the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for their third Stanley Cup.

"That was hard," Bonk said. "If you'd asked me back then before the game, I would have bet everything I had that we were going to win. I remember that tying goal. Then before they scored, (Senators winger Marian Hossa) had two or three chances. That's the guy you want. We were the better team in the third period. They had that one rush.

"That was my chance to win the Stanley Cup."

Bonk, who never played at the world juniors, also talked about his time with the International Hockey League's Las Vegas Thunder before joining the Senators — including his 208 penalty minutes in 1993-94.

"A lot of 10-minute misconducts," he said with a laugh. "Didn't speak much English. Always yapping at the refs, but all I knew were the bad words. You can imagine they didn't like a 17-year-old kid talking like that."

Senators legend Daniel Alfredsson is back in the fold as one of Martin's assistants, while former teammate Wade Redden has rejoined the organization in a development capacity, but Bonk is happy coaching minor hockey.

"Have three other kids," he said. "I retired from pro hockey because I was never around. I was missing a lot."

Bonk, however, will continue to keep tabs on his first — and most memorable — NHL stop.

"They have elite players," he said. "They'll be good. I'm still a big Sens fan. Still my No. 1 team.

"I'll be always cheering for them."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2023.


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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect number of career playoff assists for Bonk.