by Warren Rappleyea
Faisal Alsaif may be quiet and unassuming off the ice, but the Ottawa Junior Senators Alternate Captain is clearly a demanding presence once the puck drops.
The offensive-minded second-year defender is handling a much larger share of time on the Ottawa blue line this year, including manning the point on the power play. Last season the 20-year-old established himself as a regular, compiling five goals and 11 assists in helping his team with a sixth straight Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL) Yzerman Division crown, to go along with second successive Bogart and Fred Page Cups. In 14 playoff games he added a goal and two assists.
General Manager/Head Coach Martin Dagenais is certainly pleased with the results so far as Alsaif has produced a pair of goals to go along with nine assists in the 12 matches he’s played.
“Faisal came into his own late last season when our team suffered multiple injuries on the back end,” Dagenais said. “He’s a reliable two-way rearguard that doesn’t cheat the game. He can play in any situation. Along with Bailey Brant, he’s leading our young group of defensemen.”
For his part Alsaif realizes expectations are higher for him this season. He also realizes the responsibilities that go along with wearing the “A,” having served in that capacity in prep school and while playing for the Philadelphia Junior Flyers and Washington Little Capitals organizations.
“I’m a 20-year-old in my second year in the league and I know Marty [Dagenais] is looking for more from me.” Alsaif said. “I’m on the ice a lot more and the coaches are expecting me to elevate my game and be a role model to show the younger guys how to play the right way because we play a 200-foot game. I prefer to lead by example, but sometimes you have to say something too.”
Dagenais has made the 5-10, 180-pounder a fixture on the point for power plays. The Great Falls, VA resident, who is currently the lone player from the United States on the Ottawa roster, has rewarded that confidence by getting more shots on net, walking the blue line when necessary, and using his speed to keep pucks in the offensive zone.
While known as a smooth-skater who can carry the puck, make breakout passes and find open teammates up ice, Alsaif has worked to continually upgrade his game in front of the Junior Senators’ net. For example, he has become adept at better positioning his body to win battles for the puck and to also keep opponents at bay. He and Bailey Brant, with whose family Alsaif billets, have become Ottawa’s go-to mainstays on the blue line.
“I’m more comfortable and more confident in my game,” Alsaif said. “Coming into the league last season it was a bit of an adjustment for me. The game here is much faster and more intense. I learned a lot and I think it’s really helped me this year.”
Now that he’s a veteran, Alsaif appreciates the fact that opposing teams bring their top effort when they square off against the Junior Senators.
“We’re challenged every game so we have to be at our best all the time,” he said. “It’s a big deal for other teams when they play us. As one of the top teams in the league and with our record over the past few years everyone wants to knock us off.”