Bring in the bandwagon
Ottawa slowly warming up to Senators playoff run with trip to final on the line
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.
It looks like Ottawa is slowly but surely warming up to the city’s surging playoff team.