Fans brave the elements and send message to Senators owner

 

 
 
 
 
Fireworks went off during the ceremonies before the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played the NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.
 
 

Fireworks went off during the ceremonies before the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played the NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

Some enterprising type should market the T-shirts: I Survived the NHL 100 Classic.

As Montreal hockey writer Michael Farber says, the outdoor game is sometimes a place where hype meets hypothermia.

Such was the case Saturday night as fans suffered frozen extremities in the name of outdoor sporting spectacle, and paid as much as $400 for the privilege. TD Place Stadium (re-branded by Scotiabank for the weekend) was full to bursting with hockey fans in a football setting, braving temperatures in the -15 range, with a wind chill of -22, the second-coldest modern outdoor game on record after the Edmonton meat locker of 2003.

As if freezing in an outdoor setting at inflated prices weren’t sacrifice enough, those same fans had to suffer the indignity of being called out by their owner prior to this spectacle for not buying enough tickets to those other, more mundane home games of the NHL regular season.

In just the latest example of Eugene Melnyk being oblivious to common sense instincts, the Senators owner outdid himself by hinting at moving the franchise and/or slashing his payroll, perhaps even finding an arena location around town that is NOT LeBreton Flats.

The owner thinks out loud and the results are frightening. After a year of painstaking negotiations on the massive project, the NCC and LeBreton Flats partners had to be shaking their heads as the quotes spilled forth in various media and social media.

Ironically, the ill-timed rant could only detract from the spectacle of the outdoor classic which Melnyk seemed so proud to host, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the NHL’s first scheduled games.

Matching the visible vapour of their breath was steam pouring from fans’ ears. By Saturday evening, as temperatures dipped, fan unrest heated, the hash tag #MelnykOut trending on Twitter.

The essential message: don’t mess with a Canadian fan base caught up in the throes of a nostalgic hockey love-in.

For Senators fans, this was a proud moment. They stood up and were counted — 33,959, a capacity blend of Sens and Habs loyalists. Despite the owner’s sour song, the show did go on. Fans were engaged, frozen but engaged. They danced for warmth and exploded with joy when that noted Habs slayer, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, scored the game’s first goal as the home team prevailed 3-0.

Bobby Ryan scored a nifty goal, then afterward got caught in a lineup outside a Lansdowne restaurant while a frowning bouncer offered nothing but a cold shoulder to one of the night’s heroes. “That’s Bobby Ryan!” interjected several fans, as Ryan finally entered the joint wearing a black toque, fans high-fiving him as he joined some friends down at the end of the bar.

The hockey itself nearly always suffers from these outdoor spectacles, the NHL game so finely tuned it can’t quickly adapt to quickie-outdoor ice and weather whims. Players like their temps controlled, the ice just so, none of which is a fit for an outdoor sheet.

Fans aren’t well served by these events, either. Beyond the cold, there is the issue of sight lines — closer to fright lines in some cases. Sit too low and the boards block views of the puck. From on high, up in the corners of the stands, the game is pretty much a rumour, the rink taking up a fraction of the football field dimensions.

And little things, like the Habs in predominant white-and-blue that looked so Maple Leaf-like. The puck, hard to pick up visually on that greyish sheet of ice. Pucks bouncing. Frozen mitts struggling to control it.

In the past decade, the NHL has done outdoor games to death, but Ottawa survived its first event, and likely won’t mind if it doesn’t return for a while.

Now it’s over and we’re back to business as unusual with the local NHL team.

Oddly, this idea of sport bogged down with owners, contracts and cold, hard business is hardly new.

Ottawa hockey historian Paul Kitchen will tell you that the original NHL game here one hundred years ago — Dec. 19, 1917 at Dey’s Arena “in sub-zero temperatures” — was sidetracked by a contract dispute between the Senators and two of their star players, defenceman Hamby Shore and winger Jack Darragh. Seems the Senators had to start the game minus these two holdouts, huddled underneath the stands trying to get a deal done. By the time the two were signed and inserted into the game, the Canadiens had a sizable lead and coasted to a 7-4 victory.

Kitchen’s book, Win, Tie or Wrangle: The Inside Story of the old Ottawa Senators 1883-1935, also makes note of the new arena inside Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion in 1904, where the locals defended a Stanley Cup challenge from a team from Winnipeg. In this sense, Saturday’s tilt truly was one for old time’s sake.

By all accounts that 1904 series was rough, but not as tough as the response on Saturday when Ottawa fans were challenged and responded, knowing their time will come for deliverance from this turmoil.

wscanlan@postmedia.com
twitter.com/hockeyscanner

 
 
 
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Fireworks went off during the ceremonies before the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played the NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.
 

Fireworks went off during the ceremonies before the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played the NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.

Photograph by: Ashley Fraser, Ottawa Citizen

 
Fireworks went off during the ceremonies before the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens played the NHL100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017.
Fans react to the Ottawa Senators scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL 100 Classic in Ottawa on Saturday December 16, 2017 at TD Place. Ashley Fraser/Postmedia
Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan (9) puts the puck past Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during third period hockey action at the NHL 100 Classic, in Ottawa on Saturday, December 16, 2017.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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