Sens owner makes like Amer­i­can pres­i­dent by boot­ing Post­media re­porter from flight

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­ twit­

There are 31 teams in the NHL. All of them fly char­ter for road trips. But for the last sev­eral years, only one of them has al­lowed re­porters to travel to­gether with the team.

That is un­til now.

Days af­ter the Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen and Ot­tawa Sun, both owned by Post­media, pub­lished a leaked video that showed a van­load of Ot­tawa play­ers talk­ing crap about an as­sis­tant coach dur­ing an Uber ride in Ari­zona, the Sen­a­tors in­formed vet­eran hockey re­porter Ken War­ren that the Ot­tawa Sun and Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen would no longer be al­lowed to travel with the team.

War­ren was lit­er­ally stand­ing at the air­port gate when he was kicked off the flight Fri­day and though he got on a later com­mer­cial flight, he ended up miss­ing that day’s prac­tice in Tampa, Fla.

The Sen­a­tors de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter. But the last-minute no­tice in­di­cates this was their way of hit­ting back at the Ci­ti­zen and Sun for pub­lish­ing the video the Sen­a­tors had hoped would never see the light of day. Ei­ther way, it was a ju­ve­nile move. And, frankly, it was not at all sur­pris­ing com­ing from an owner who has op­er­ated the team with a sort of Don­ald Trump-ian ap­proach to con­trol­ling the mes­sage.

Also on the Sen­a­tors’ grow­ing no-fly list is TSN re­porter Brent Wal­lace, who be­fore the team’s Par­lia­ment Hill alumni game last De­cem­ber had the au­dac­ity to ask owner Eu­gene Melnyk about a re­port that sug­gested he had been with­hold­ing bonus money from his em­ploy­ees. Melnyk de­nied the al­le­ga­tion. Once the cam­eras were turned off, by­standers saw him turn to Wal­lace and say, “I’m go­ing to bury you.”

Since then, Wal­lace’s seat on the char­ter was re­voked, leav­ing Syl­vain St-Lau­rent of French­language news­pa­per Le Droit with one of the re­main­ing few seats. Well, un­til he writes some­thing Mel­nyk­doesn’ t like. Based on the owner’s thin skin and the team’s propen­sity for caus­ing con­tro­versy, that shouldn’t be too long.

This isn’t about sav­ing money or mak­ing travel eas­ier for the Sun and Ci­ti­zen. With or with­out a seat on the char­ter, an Ot­tawa re­porter is go­ing to con­tinue to travel to NHL games. Rather, it’s about a fran­chise that be­lieves it can shape the news with bul­ly­ing tac­tics straight out of a five-yearold’s play­book.

“We re­main com­mit­ted to cov­er­ing the sto­ries, both the good and the bad, sur­round­ing the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors — cov­er­age that our read­ers and their fans ex­pect from us,” said Michelle Richard­son, ed­i­tor-in-chief of the Sun and Ci­ti­zen. “We will be at (Satur­day) night’s game in Tampa pro­vid­ing our usual game cov­er­age and anal­y­sis.”

The news is not al­ways pos­i­tive, es­pe­cially when it con­cerns a hockey team near the bot­tom in the stand­ings and in av­er­age at­ten­dance. It doesn’t help that off the ice the Sen­a­tors have spent the last year or so em­broiled in one con­tro­versy af­ter an­other with the owner hav­ing started most of the fires or at the least try­ing to smother themin gaso­line-soaked-rags.

Shortly af­ter the end of last sea­son, Melnyk in­vited re­porters to a town-hall meet­ing with sea­son-ticket hold­ers. Cam­eras and ques­tions were not al­lowed. Months later, af­ter the Sen­a­tors traded away two of their best play­ers, Melnyk was so des­per­ate for pos­i­tive pub­lic re­la­tions he staged a one-on-one “in­ter­view” with de­fence­man Mark Borowiecki, where Melnyk fielded soft­ball ques­tions on the re­build and his com­mit­ment to keep­ing the team in Ot­tawa.

“Some peo­ple are talk­ing in town, ‘He may move the team!’ Let me tell you some­thing,” Melnyk said in the video in­ter­view with Borowiecki. “First things first, I’m go­ing to stick around for a long, long time. OK? I’m not go­ing any­where. And No. 2, the fran­chise is not go­ing any­where. That’s to­tally solid. So ev­ery­one can fo­cus, get rid of the noise.”

The thing Melnyk doesn’t seem to un­der­stand is it’s not the me­dia mak­ing the noise.

It wasn’t the Ci­ti­zen nor the Sun that chased away fran­chise icon Daniel Al­freds­son from a front-of­fice job. They didn’t trade Erik Karls­son and Mike Hoff­man for a bunch of magic beans af­ter the two be­came em­broiled in a cy­ber-bul­ly­ing scan­dal. Who was it that threat­ened to move the team if at­ten­dance didn’t pick up? Whose em­ployee was ac­cused of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing a shut­tle-bus driver at the NHL draft? Who failed to lot­tery pro­tect a firstround draft pick in a re­gret­table trade for Matt Duchene that was only made be­cause own­er­ship didn’t want to pay Kyle Tur­ris his mar­ket value?

It cer­tainly wasn’t War­ren. Nei­ther the Ci­ti­zen nor the Sun in­stalled a hid­den cam­era in an Uber-af­fil­i­ated ve­hi­cle to catch the pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion of the team’s play­ers. For that mat­ter, the Ci­ti­zen and Sun didn’t pay for the video. The driver tweeted it out and posted it to YouTube for ev­ery­one to see. By the time the Sen­a­tors told the news­pa­per to take the video down, the cat was out of the bag. Ev­ery­one had it and ev­ery­one was run­ning with it.

But rather than fo­cus its en­ergy on why th­ese con­tro­ver­sies keep pop­ping up, the or­ga­ni­za­tion seems more con­cerned with try­ing to prevent them from be­ing re­ported. Of course, that would take a mea­sure of ac­count­abil­ity, which is some­thing the fran­chise is in short sup­ply of.

When the Uber video was re­leased, the team’s re­sponse was to trot out four play­ers who weren’t even in the van to talk about it.

Where was Melnyk? Where was gen­eral man­ager Pierre Do­rion? Where were Duchene, Chris Wide­man or any of the play­ers who not only bragged to a stranger that they were NHL play­ers, but then pro­ceeded to trash their team and a coach in front of that stranger?

All of a sud­den, a one-day story be­came a two-day story that might be­come a sea­son-long story if an ex­tended ver­sion of the video were to get re­leased. Of course, who knows what other con­tro­versy will have popped up by then.

As Melnyk said in that video in­ter­view with Borowiecki back in Septem­ber: “Right now, we’re kind of in the dump­ster.”

Truer words were never spo­ken.


Sen­a­tors owner Eu­gene Melnyk had vet­eran Post­media hockey re­porter Ken War­ren kicked off the team’s char­ter flight just days af­ter the Ot­tawa Ci­ti­zen pub­lished leaked video in which a van­load of play­ers were shown talk­ing neg­a­tively about an as­sis­tant coach.

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