Ottawa slowly warming up to Senators’ playoff run
Prime Minister says time to join the bandwagon
Politics, like hockey, has its unwritten rules — and on Friday, Justin Trudeau broke one of them, daring to suggest the country should jump on the bandwagon of the only Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators, who will face the Pittsburgh Penguins beginning Saturday to decide the top team in the Eastern Conference, were left standing alone after the Edmonton Oilers suffered a narrow Game 7 loss earlier this week to the Anaheim Ducks.
The prime minister will to temporarily set aside his allegiance to his beloved Montreal Canadiens to back the Senators, and is urging fellow hockey fans to join him.
“I think all Canadians will be rooting for the final Canadian team in the Stanley Cup playoffs,’’ Trudeau said during a news conference in Brampton, Ont.
“We’re all happy to support Ottawa right now,’’ Trudeau said. “Even Torontonians and Montrealers can agree on this particular one.’’
Or not, if the reaction on social media is any indication.
“This should be grounds to trigger an election,’’ one tweeted. Another wrote: “I’ll cheer when the Senators start golfing.’’
Added a third: “U.S.: Our leader says something bonkers every day. Trudeau: Hold my hair gel.’’
Muted enthusiasm for the Senators is fitting, perhaps, considering Ottawa’s reputation as a place long jokingly derided by detractors as ``the city that fun forgot.’’
At first glance, the city itself seems underwhelmed by the strongest Senators playoff run in a decade — at least compared to the rabid enthusiasm that tends to accompany hockey success in Canada’s better-known markets.
Turnout at John Couse’s pub — the Lieutenant’s Pump, on a strip the city has dubbed “Sens Mile’’ — was smaller than expected for the first three playoff games. And the team’s firstround series against the Boston Bruins was marked by empty seats at home, prompting questions about the city’s relationship with its hockey team.
That, said Couse, is all about to change.
“It really didn’t feel like we normally do for playoff hockey,’’ he said of the early games. “Now that we’re in the thick of it and the Sens have proven that they are a legitimate playoff team, I think everyone is paying attention.’’
Few in this city expect to see a multitude of fans getting rowdy or sporting face paint like Oakland Raiders fans.
It’s just not the mentality of the capital, said Eric MacIntosh, an associate professor in the school of human kinetics at the University of Ottawa, whose research includes fan behaviour.
It’s simply that fans here are more subdued, and excitement for the team has been slow to build, he suggested.
“The appetite for hockey is considerable amongst the avid fan base,’’ MacIntosh said.
“I would put Ottawa’s fan base up against any one of those cities (Toronto and Montreal), any day of the week in terms of knowledge of the game and interest in the game. It’s just that I think some cities have more of those (avid) fans than Ottawa.’’
After the Senators ousted the New York Rangers, some of those fans danced in the streets along Sens Mile; others gathered at the airport in the middle of the night to welcome the team home.
“You see the clip of the fans dancing in the street when the light is green. In Ottawa, we’re so nice when the light gets red, we (usually) get out of the way,’’ Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said during the team’s off-day on Thursday.
The Senators have been a part of the city since 1992, inserting themselves into a region previously divided primarily between Toronto and Montreal fans. The Senators have neither the history that the Maple Leafs have with the city of Toronto, nor cultural connections like the Canadiens, who are woven into the fabric of French Canadian society.
Ottawa Senators players celebrate after scoring against the New York Rangers late in the game during the third period in game five of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series in Ottawa on Saturday, May 6, 2017.