- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

Peter Bondra left Washington in tears last month.

He returns tonight more at peace with the trade that sent him to the Ottawa Senators after nearly 14 years with the Capitals.

“Everyone in Ottawa has welcomed me,” said Bondra, who was traded for a prospect and a draft pick by the rebuilding Caps, who wanted to shed his $4.5million salary. “When I landed at the airport, everyone starting with the people in customs knew me. When I go to a restaurant, they know me. It’s very different than Washington. Hockey is the biggest thing in Canada.”

Playing for the talented Senators has been an adjustment. Bondra led the Caps in points and/or goals in every season but one from 1993 to 2002. He holds the franchise record in most offensive categories. But on an Ottawa team with Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson and Martin Havlat, Bondra isn’t even the third option. He plays left wing on either of the top two lines and also sees time on the power play and penalty-killing units.

“We have a lot of top players, so I don’t feel the pressure to score every night,” said Bondra, who has five goals and four assists in nine games for the Senators. “It has been an adjustment because we have different systems than we had in Washington, but the players have made me very comfortable. This is a good team, so it’s not hard to fit in.

“You don’t really know how good these guys are until you play with them every day. There are a lot of good teams who can win the Stanley Cup, but I like our chances.”

These days Bondra, who has never won a Stanley Cup, speaks from his head, not his heart.

His heart did most of the talking last month when he broke down three times while speaking to the Washington media the day he was traded. It was understandable. The Caps were the only NHL team Bondra knew. When he came to the NHL from Slovakia as a 22-year-old in 1990, he knew two words of English. Now he and his family call Washington home.

“My heart is still in Washington,” Bondra said. “It always will be. I have to admit that when I’m on our bench during games, I’ll sneak a look at the scoreboard to see how the Capitals are doing. I’ve talked to a few of the guys there since I was traded. It hasn’t been as tough being away from my family as I expected because I was able to go home for two days last week and now I’m back again.

“I was a little shocked by the trade because I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. I thought [Caps general manager George McPhee] would give me a few days to think about it and get my family prepared. But I understand that it was best for me as a hockey player.”

Tonight Bondra, whose 961 games are 22 shy of the Caps’ record, will be a visitor in Washington for the first time. He’s sure to receive a rousing reception from the fans.

“I know they’re going to want Bonzai to score, and if he does, there will be a big cheer,” said Caps defenseman Brendan Witt, a teammate for nine years. “Bonzai will probably be a little nervous, but it’s always weird for me, too, when I play an ex-teammate for the first time. Bonzai knows what I think he’s going to do, so he might try to mix it up.”

Bondra just hopes he doesn’t get mixed up in his return to familiar surroundings.

“It’s going to be weird to come back to the building, to dress in the visitors’ locker room and sit on the visitors’ bench,” Bondra said. “I hope I don’t go to the wrong room or to the wrong bench by habit. It’s going to be strange to play against so many of my friends. You say that a perfect night for the fans would be for the Capitals to win 5-4 and for me to score four goals, but a perfect night for me would be if we win 1-0.”

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