Bring in the band­wagon

Ot­tawa slowly warm­ing up to Se­na­tors play­off run with trip to fi­nal on the line

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JOR­DAN PRESS OT­TAWA —

John Couse’s bar is quiet on a week­day af­ter­noon as he looks ahead to the weekend.

Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal is Satur­day night, with the Ot­tawa Se­na­tors four wins away from the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal.

The path through the play­offs has been any­thing but smooth off the ice. Couse said turnout at his pub — the Lieu­tenant’s Pump along a strip the city has dubbed Sens Mile — was smaller than ex­pected for the first three play­off games.

The team’s first-round se­ries against the Bos­ton Bru­ins saw empty seats at the first home game, which prompted ques­tions about the city’s re­la­tion­ship with its hockey team.

“It re­ally didn’t feel like we nor­mally do for play­off hockey,” Couse says 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 fans be­come rowdy or get painted in team colours like Oak­land Raiders fans. It’s just not the men­tal­ity of the cap­i­tal, says Eric MacIn­tosh, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the school of hu­man ki­net­ics at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, whose re­search in­cludes fan be­hav­iour. In­stead, the fans here are more sub­dued and ex­cite­ment for the team has been slow to build.

Af­ter the Se­na­tors ousted the New York Rangers from the play­offs, fans danced in the mid­dle of Sens Mile and oth­ers wel­comed the team home at the air­port at 1:30 a.m.

“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 tran­sient na­ture of Ot­tawa’s pop­u­la­tion that in­cludes civil ser­vants, po­lit­i­cal staffers and stu­dents, fur­ther com­pli­cates the team’s lo­cal reach.

Ross Arnold, 26, found that he be­came more pub­lic in his al­le­giance to the Se­na­tors af­ter he left Ot­tawa. He says he started fol­low­ing Se­na­tors’ blogs once sur­rounded by Leafs fans when he went to the Univer­sity of Water­loo as a way to tap into the so­cial con­nect­ed­ness that drives many peo­ple to sup­port a spe­cific team.

“The Sens fans out­side of Ot­tawa have to be more vo­cal about it,” said Arnold, ed­i­tor of the sports site Sil­verSevenSens.com. “You need other peo­ple to share with. In Ot­tawa, if you as­sume that most peo­ple are at least ca­su­ally in­ter­ested in the Sens or at least would rather have the Sens win than have them lose, it’s not as im­por­tant.”

The team is hop­ing that will change. Do­rion tipped his cap to the team’s true fans this week, be­fore adding that any­one who wants to jump on the band­wagon is more than wel­come.

FRED CHAR­TRAND, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

It looks like Ot­tawa is slowly but surely warm­ing up to the city’s surg­ing play­off team.

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