Ottawa Citizen

Big year, dumb luck for Sens

Team stunned crit­ics in 20th year

- WAYNE SCAN­LAN Sports · Ice Hockey · NHL Hockey · Ottawa Senators · Ottawa · Minnesota Twins · National Hockey League · Florida · Ontario · Kanata · Montreal · Rome · Glebe · Scotiabank · Daniel Alfredsson · Erik Karlsson · Jason Spezza · Mike Fisher · Eastern Conference · New York City · Theoren Fleury · Florida Board of Governors · Montreal Canadiens

Mi­nor hockey play­ers love to talk about their favourite “celly,” or goal cel­e­bra­tion move.

It might in­volve a Theo Fleury body slide, a dou­ble knee swoop, a full arm curl or a body launch into the glass.

But what does a fran­chise do for an im­por­tant “celly” of a moment in time?

As the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors ap­proached the 2011-12 NHL sea­son, they had a de­ci­sion to make.

When would they cel­e­brate the 20th an­niver­sary of the club’s re­turn to the NHL?

There were no short­age of op­tions. The 20th birth date of Ot­tawa’s suc­cess­ful bid at the Florida board of gov­er­nors’ meet­ings had long since passed, given that it was on Dec. 6, 1990. But from there, a se­ries of crit­i­cal dates fol­lowed — the sec­ond fran­chise fee pay­ment of $22.5 mil­lion in June of 1991, the Aug. 18, 1991, On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board ap­proval of the Kanata arena pro­posal, the ground­break­ing cer­e­monies for the new Pal­la­dium (two names ago) in late June of 1992.

Fi­nally came the on-ice moment to cel­e­brate, as all the bu­reau­cratic red tape and com­pli­cated fi­nanc­ing gave way to flesh and blood hockey: Game 1 of the mod­ern Sen­a­tors team, on Oct. 8, 1992, a 5-3 vic­tory over the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens at the Civic Cen­tre.

“Maybe Rome was Built in a Day,” read the Cit­i­zen head­line the next day, a tip of the cap to the Sen­a­tors Ro­man cen­tu­rion theme.

This was the moment to cel­e­brate with a full year of re­flec­tion, a salute to the Sen­a­tors heroes of the past, the day that the long and some­times ar­du­ous buildup came to fruition. The tim­ing of the an­niver­sary was such that it would have made per­fect sense to start the “celly” in Oc­to­ber of 2012, mark­ing the 20 years since that open­ing night in the Glebe, when Neil Brady scored the first goal in fran­chise his­tory and Doug Smail sealed the win with an empty-net goal.

That the Sen­a­tors chose NOT to mark the oc­ca­sion in Oc­to­ber 2012 will go down as one of their best de­ci­sions in re­cent me­mory.

As if the wounds of a three-month lock­out were not deep enough, the pain and suf­fer­ing would have been mul­ti­plied by hav­ing to can­cel the feel-good, an­niver­sary sea­son.

Sen­a­tors man­age­ment staff say they can’t take much credit for mak­ing the cor­rect call. It had noth­ing to do with ex­pect­ing a lock­out this fall. Early in 2011, with the pend­ing CBA has­sles way off in the dis­tance, the de­ci­sion was made to mark the oc­ca­sion dur­ing the 201112 NHL sea­son, a year early, in ef­fect.

“It was just dumb luck,” says Sen­a­tors pres­i­dent Cyril Leeder, about niftily avoid­ing a head-on col­li­sion with the lock­out. “We asked the NHL which year was ap­pro­pri­ate to cel­e­brate an an­niver­sary and they said both were. So, we chose last year.”

Great call. Look­ing out from the black hole that has been the 201213 lock­out, the 2011-12 sea­son grows more fondly upon re­flec­tion:

At most home games, play­ers from pre­vi­ous Sen­a­tors teams were hon­oured, in­clud­ing 14 orig­i­nals on open­ing night. Brady was there. Brad Marsh. Orig­i­nal cap­tain Lau­rie Boschman. Fans re­ceived an­niver­sary pins as they en­tered Sco­tia­bank Place.

Along with the 20th an­niver­sary bash, 2011-12 was the year of the NHL All-Star Game and fes­ti­val in Ot­tawa, af­ter years of be­ing un­able to at­tract the gig due to ho­tel and con­ven­tion space lim­i­ta­tions. The fes­ti­val at the newly built Con­ven­tion Cen­tre was a smash hit — it felt as though the en­tire re­gion, along with NHL greats past and present, were all to­gether un­der one roof.

THIS WAS ALSO:

The year of the Daniel Al­freds­son come­back from back surgery.

The year that Erik Karls­son, the cap­tain’s Swedish com­pa­triot, would win the Nor­ris Tro­phy in just his third NHL sea­son.

The year the City of Ot­tawa would in­duct four Sen­a­tors pioneers into the Ot­tawa Sports Hall of Fame — Bruce Fire­stone, Leeder, Randy Sex­ton and Rod Bry­den.

The year rookie head coach Paul MacLean would bring just the right mix of folksy charm and tough love to an up-and-coming group. MacLean made it fun for play­ers to come to the rink, but he had the gump­tion to nail star cen­tre Ja­son Spezza’s butt to the bench for parts of Game 6 against the Rangers.

The year Mike Fisher would re­turn to Ot­tawa for the first time since be­ing traded away the pre­vi­ous spring in the Sen­a­tors’ re­mark­ably quick re­build­ing pro­gram.

The year of the her­itage hockey sweater, to cel­e­brate the early Ot­tawa teams that won Stan­ley Cups as the Sil­ver Seven and then Sen­a­tors. It was risky, hav­ing play­ers in a re­build­ing sea­son wear­ing jer­seys with a big O on the chest. In a long los­ing streak, they would have been the Ot­tawa Ze­roes. In­stead the O stood for Orig­i­nals.

The year the Sen­a­tors would be picked for last place by many hockey ex­perts but would defy the odds and nail down the fi­nal play­off spot in the East­ern Con­fer­ence.

The year Ot­tawa would push the New York Rangers to seven games in their first-round play­off se­ries, be­fore los­ing Game 7 by a 2-1 score.

Look­ing back from the dark shad­ows of a locked out Oc­to­ber, Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, it’s the lit­tle things we all ap­pre­ci­ate from the last sea­son played. The rhythm of a daily sched­ule. Morn­ing gath­er­ings at the rink. The stretch drive to games that mat­ter, back when the games peo­ple played took place on the ice.

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 ?? WAYNE CUDDINGTON/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN ?? Sen­a­tors head coach Paul MacLean brought the right mix of folksy charm and tough love to an up-and-coming group.
WAYNE CUDDINGTON/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN Sen­a­tors head coach Paul MacLean brought the right mix of folksy charm and tough love to an up-and-coming group.

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