If you're an Ottawa Senators fan, you probably understand when I talk about having an inferiority complex. If you're like me, every time you go to NHL.com you hope there's some Sens news on the sidebar. If you ever look through Puck Daddy's Puck Headlines or a similar list of hockey news for the day, you keep your eyes peeled for some mention of the Sens. You watch Sportscentre, hoping that the highlights from the Sens game show up before the second round of highlights from the Maple Leafs game that actually took place two nights ago. This year's NHL Awards were a big deal because three members of the Sens were up for awards. It was a pleasant surprise for a fanbase used to being ignored by the media.
Part of me wonders if part of this complex just comes from being in Ottawa. To lots of Canadians, Ottawa is less a city, more an idea. A location where overpaid politicians go to screw over the rest of the country. Ottawa is full of civil servants who rip off taxpayers by getting paid to do no actual work. Ottawa is the city that fun forgot, sandwiched between the much larger Montreal and the even mucher larger Toronto. I once rode a bus back from a Sens-Leafs game, and a group of Leafs fans started chanting "Boring city, useless city"; one guy continued the chant (alone) for more than 10 minutes. The 401 highway / Autoroute 20 that connects Toronto to Montreal goes through Kingston and Cornwall, but Ottawa wasn't a big enough deal to re-route it. For lots of people outside of Southern and/or Eastern Ontario, saying you're from Ottawa provides an awkward, immediate end to the topic of conversation. You're torn between either yelling "Green space! Museums! Jim Watson!" to desperately dispel their ideas of Ottawa or sitting in silence, knowing that you can only harm their already poor opinion of the nation's capital.
But it runs deeper than that for Sens fans. Ottawa still matters a great deal to the country. It hardly matters to the NHL. Being stuck between Montreal and Toronto helps to get rid of any relevance for the team. On the one hand you have Hashtag-24-Cups; on the other hand you have a billion-dollar franchise with the NHL's biggest fanbase. On either hand you have one of the premier teams of the league, full of history, based out of multi-million-person Canadian cities, making money hand-over-fist. Teams like the Arizona Coyotes or Florida Panthers get a lot of attention from the league because the league believes it has to have a Southern US presence to truly be a Big Four sports league. A small-market Canadian team is about as unimportant as you can get in the league's eyes.
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Ottawa's history as a team helps with the obscurity. Each and every Sens fan remembers losing to the Leafs in the playoffs four times in five years. It doesn't matter that the current franchise of the Sens has made the Stanley Cup finals once in its 22 years of existence while the Leafs haven't made the Cup Finals since winning it all in 1967 -- any Leafs will tell you Ottawa can't win when it matters most. When Daniel Alfredsson left for the Detroit Red Wings, Sens fans lost their minds. The closest thing we had to a franchise player left the franchise. When Mats Sundin refused a trade, then left as a free agent the next year, Leafs fans could turn to their (then) 91 years of history. Ottawa's pre-Alfie history is pretty bleak.
Watching broadcasts is also very hard for Sens fans. Any game against a Canadian team leads to a clear, audible bias. Sens fans turn to Twitter and other outlets to vent their frustration over another heavily-slanted call by the announcers. Back in 2013, when the Sens beat the Canadiens in the playoffs, fans rejoiced because the team was playing the Penguins in the next round. We were excited to play an American team and maybe get at least a neutral call on "national" television. Were we ever wrong. "I know Colin Greening just scored, but let's go back to check out that line change by Sidney Crosby. He just does everything like no one else can." - Glenn Healy, probably.
I used to think it was a one-way street, that Sens fans hated the Leafs, and Leafs fans didn't care much either way about Ottawa. The summer of 2013 I was working in Mississauga and proudly had Sens flags flying from my car until they were eliminated from the playoffs. Lots and lots of drivers shouted boos, gave me the thumbs-down, or flashed middle fingers. I was happy to see that the residents of Toronto did hold a dislike for Ottawa. Similarly, I'd say Habs fans detest the Sens now after splitting two tough playoff series. Though maybe it just reinforces the whole inferiority complex idea that I celebrate when fans of other teams find us relevant enough to hate.
In the end, I think there are some positives about the inferiority complex. We'll never be called entitled, no one will pick Ottawa fans as the NHL's most insufferable, and we'll never be labelled bandwagon fans. I think it keeps a healthy amount of self-deprecating humour among the fans; where would Bonk's Mullet or Welcome To Your Karlsson Years be without a fanbase willing to be mocked? I will still get frustrated when I read misinformed articles about the team. About eight months ago I had someone suggest to me that Jared Cowen should be Erik Karlsson's partner, as if it was the smartest idea ever. I will still get upset when Frank D'Angelo, who couldn't name three current Sens players, predicts the team will move to Markham in three years. Sometimes all I can do is shake my head and return to the Sens blogosphere.
Not all Sens fans will agree on everything. But regardless of your opinions on Chris Neil or Patrick Wiercioch, I think you can agree that being a Sens fan involves embracing the afterthought label. We can all complain together when Bob Cole sounds upset after the Sens sneak a goal past Carey Price. I'd say it's time to start thinking of the inferiority complex as a good thing. Just don't let the rest of the NHL know. Seeing as I only wrote this for an Ottawa Senators blog, our secret should be safe.