Tim Wharnsby

'You could see the pain in his eyes': Sens' Anderson inspires teammates with courageous return

A day after the announcement that his wife, Nicolle, had been diagnosed with cancer, Senators goalie Craig Anderson produced the most heartwarming moment of the NHL season by shutting out Edmonton in his tearful return to the ice.

Ottawa goalie posts shutout after wife diagnosed with cancer

Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson returned from a leave of absence following his wife's cancer diagnosis to lead the Senators to a shutout win in Edmonton. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

No matter which NHL team you cheer for, we were all pulling for Craig Anderson on Sunday evening.

An emotional Anderson gathered himself and inspired his Ottawa Senators teammates with a 37-save shutout performance in a 2-0 victory against the Oilers in Edmonton.

The 35-year-old goalie had taken a leave of absence from the Senators last week, a day after he made 22 saves in a shutout over the Canucks in Vancouver.

No reason was given for Anderson's departure at the time, but it was revealed on Saturday when Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion disclosed in a moving address that Anderson's wife, Nicolle, had been diagnosed with cancer.

Anderson was with his wife, two sons and other family members back in Florida last Friday when Senators backup goalie Andrew Hammond suffered a groin injury in a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.

As they watched the game, a selfless Nicolle insisted her husband call Dorion to tell him that Anderson was going to rejoin his teammates. They needed him with Hammond down. So Anderson hopped on a plane and flew across North America to come to the rescue.

'A special night'

Anderson was too emotional for post-game interviews after the win in Edmonton. That was understandable and evident after the incredible evening ended.

He sported a purple Hockey Fights Cancer emblem on the back of his mask, while the Senators' and Oilers' coaches wore the same-coloured ties that are associated with the cause.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Anderson bent over, placed his hands on his knees and let tears wash down his cheeks.

Craig Anderson blanks Oilers in emotional return

6 years ago
Duration 1:44
Craig Anderson got a shutout and the game's 1st star the day after the Ottawa Senators announced his wife Nicholle Anderson has cancer.

His teammates hugged him and moments later he skated back onto the ice as the game's first star. Oilers fans stayed to give him a standing ovation and classy Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot stood at his team's bench to applaud his adversary.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm speechless," remarked Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher, who usually has plenty to say after a game. "It was a special night."

'He put a strong face on'

Anderson is a fiery competitor, a leader. He has touched teammates wherever he has played, whether it was in junior with the Guelph Storm or his NHL stops in Chicago, Florida, Colorado and Ottawa.

"He made a big effort in coming here at the urging of his wife," Senators captain Erik Karlsson said in his post-game interview with the TSN broadcast. "We all knew what it meant. He came here and inspired us and led the team the whole way. You could feel the tension and emotion of this game. It was special to be a part of.

"He put a strong face on, but you could see the pain in his eyes."

Anderson, who has won five of his six starts this season, was named the NHL's first star of the week on Monday. He and Nicolle are slated to hold a press conference in Ottawa later this week to talk about the battle that lies ahead.

Trying times

If there is a group or organization that can rally around this turn of events it is the Senators. They are no strangers to trying and tragic times.

In November 2010, assistant coach Luke Richardson's teenage daughter Daron committed suicide. Almost 6,000 people turned up for her memorial service a few days later at Scotiabank Place, now called the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators have embraced a Do it for Daron project that deals with youth mental illness and teenage suicide.

In July 2014, longtime general manager Bryan Murray, now the team's senior hockey advisor, announced he had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

Ottawa assistant coach Mark Reeds lost his battle with cancer in April 2015, and forward Bobby Ryan's mother also passed away due to cancer last July.

So no matter which team you cheer for, it will be easy to support the Andersons and Senators as they battle this cruel disease once again.

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