OTTAWA - Cody Ceci's dream of playing for his hometown NHL team has been given new life.
The defenceman was originally recalled by the Ottawa Senators out of necessity, but the 19-year-old's play through three games earned him the opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.
The Senators announced Tuesday that Ceci's status had gone from an emergency recall to a regular recall and say they will carry eight defencemen for the foreseeable future.
"He's played with good poise," said Senators coach Paul MacLean. "It's good to see in a young player that he's able to come in and play that way."
The Ottawa native was the hometown hero Monday night, scoring the overtime winner in a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues.
"It was just a great feeling for everyone," Ceci said. "I'm just happy getting the first one out of the way. It was a great night."
Marc Methot, also from Ottawa, says he's been impressed with Ceci's composure since he was recalled from the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.
"He's handled himself so well," Methot said. "We're all real happy for him and he's a bright spot on this hockey club and in the future here."
Ceci seems to have a knack for scoring big goals. His two goals with Binghamton this season were overtime winners and his first goal in the Ontario Hockey League was a game winner. But there is little doubt that his first in the NHL is most special.
Being given the opportunity to stay in Ottawa is like an early birthday present for Ceci, who turns 20 on Saturday.
"That was my goal coming here was that I wanted to make a good impression," Ceci said. "I was just trying to go out there and work my hardest and whatever happened, happened. From here on out I have to work hard to stay here."
Ceci was paired with veteran Chris Phillips at Tuesday's practice. Phillips, a player Ceci grew up watching, says he has been impressed with the rookie's game and has enjoyed playing with him.
"It's good to see him step in and look like he certainly belongs," Phillips said. "He's played well. Played with confidence and it's a pleasure to watch."
The Senators have had their share of struggles on the blue-line this season. Too often the defence has been guilty of poor decision-making, which has often resulted in bad goals. But like the rest of the team, it seems to be showing signs of improvement.
"We were making mistakes that were costing goals and being strong in our own zone has to be our job first and foremost," Phillips said. "We're supposed to be the guys that are there if there are breakdowns and not the ones causing them. I think there's been a better awareness of that lately that's helped us out."
As the team's veteran defenceman, Phillips has been asked to take on a greater leadership role with the younger blue-liners.
"You try and say things here and there, but for the most part you want to go out and lead by example," Phillips said. "For me to raise my game and be more accountable makes it a lot easier for them to do that."
Monday's win was one of the Senators' better efforts of late, but MacLean says the real test is seeing whether or not his team can do it again.
"It's another test for us in the same way that it has been all year long," MacLean said. "Do it once, but can you do it twice or more often than that now."
The Senators have not won back-to-back games since November 5-9, when they won three straight.
The Senators take on the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. The Devils have had their own share of problems trying to find consistency, going 3-4-0 so far through December.
Methot has missed the last three games due to the flu, and while the defenceman feels he's ready to play there is a chance he could sit out Wednesday's game.
"Sometimes when you win games if it ain't broke don't fix it or don't change it," said MacLean. "We're going to give everyone every consideration to be in the lineup for (Tuesday's) game."
Notes: D Erik Karlsson and RW Bobby Ryan were given maintenance days and both are expected to play Wednesday. Robin Lehner will get the start.