Great Time to Be a Sens Fan? Leafs and Habs Taking Over
After a disappointing season last year in which they failed to make the playoffs, the Sens are riding high now with a firm grip on a playoff spot, and a shot at finishing second overall in the Conference. So with the great turnaround, and the team playing well, what’s not to be happy about? Well, if you think it’s a redundant question, try asking a resident of Kanata, or go straight to the source - Daniel Alfredsson.
I had the pleasure of traveling to our nation’s capital this weekend to partake in the Battle of Ontario first hand, and I was not properly prepared for what I saw. Let me start out by saying that if you stay in Ottawa and think you are going to be able to walk or cab down to the arena, you will be sadly mistaken. Scotiabank Place is located about 30 minutes down the highway in Kanata. It currently resides on farmland with nothing around it but swamps and parking lots. But besides the location, and the solitary road in and out (which bottlenecks traffic), the arena itself is pretty nice. And despite it’s location, the arena boasts packed houses, and sellout games. The big problem though is the majority of the fans that pack the place aren’t wearing the Sens ‘Red and White’.
The game I attended this weekend was no exception. Right from the moment we parked our car we could see the waves of LeafsNation crashing up against Scotiabank Place. They arrived by the busload, and swallowed up the sporadic red shirts of Sens fans. It was even worse once we got inside. The booming voices of the various venders, was the only audible sound breaking through the seemingly endless chant of “Go Leafs Go!” We took our seats, and our section, like every other section, was predominantly Blue & White. I would go as far as to say it was about a 70-30 ratio. Meaning the Sens fans were out-numbered 70% to 30% in their own building!
The anthem was the only thing everybody agreed upon, as 20,000 people drowned out the loudspeaker, making the anthem performer look like a low-budget martial arts movie when he switched to French halfway through the song. The teams lined up, the puck dropped, and the chirping began. The Sens players, goalie, and fans took it hard in their home rink for a full 60 minutes, although a large majority of Sens fans left well before the 5-minute mark. It was relentless. Some of the more clever chants included; “Real teams have, arenas in the city, arenas in the city, arenas in the city, real teams have, arenas in the city, Spezza is a joke!” or, “I’d rather be a Hab than a Sen, I’d rather be a Hab than a Sen, I’d rather be a Hab, I’d rather be a Hab, I’d rather be a Hab than a Sen!”. But mostly you just heard the typical “Go Leafs Go!”, “Sens suck!”, Bbbbbbbbiiiiiiiisssssshhhhhhooooopppppp!” (heckling the goalie), and of course, constant boo’s every time Sens Captain Daniel Alfredsson touched the puck.
Can you imagine having your captain booed in your home rink?! It’s disgraceful! But this is the reality the Senators face 6 out of 41 home games every season. Three when the Leafs come to town, and three when, as you probably guessed, the Habs come to town. The Montreal fans overrun the rink with similar numbers, as “Ole, ole ole ole!” can be heard from the highway. It’s tough on the players, the owners and the fans in Ottawa. For the players, I’m amazed they have been able to perform as well as they have over the years. Getting booed and heckled while your playing in your own barn has to be disheartening. But they are professionals and seem to find a way to push past it. The owners hate the bad publicity and the drop in merchandise sales, but on the other hand they love the revenue from the ticket sales. So really I think it’s the fans that are the ones who seem to be close to their boiling point.
The ratio gets worse every year as more Sens fans turn to watching those games at home as opposed to going down to the rink and getting verbally harassed by opposing fans. It’s very evident if you happen to catch their local post-game call-in show, where the fans voice their displeasure. They go as far as to say things like, “We might as well just blow the goal horn for them when they score and admit we’re the away team”. And the season ticket holders call in from home revealing that they would rather sell their tickets for a profit to willing Leaf or Hab fans and enjoy the unthreatening comforts of their living rooms during those games. It really has gotten to that point.
The only real solution is to limit ticket sales to local residents the way most teams do in the playoffs, but then you risk losing a lot of potential revenue if the game doesn’t sell out. And that’s a risk owners just aren’t willing to take. So for now there will be two certainties when it comes to Senator rivalry home games. One, the Leafs and Habs will have free-reign when they come to town. And two, there will always be a packed house in Kanata on game night.
…and that is the last word.