I was eight years old the last time the Ottawa Senators made the Eastern Conference Finals.
I don’t remember the Devils loss in 2003. I don’t remember the Leafs loss in 2004 (not that I’m complaining). Even my memory of the 2007 Cup run is imperfect. There are so many moments that defined the Ottawa Senators as a franchise, moments that I hear about so often on Twitter and in the comments on this website that I feel as if I lived through them myself. But the truth is, I don’t remember very many of them. In 2007, I was too young to stay up for every game, so during the playoffs I’d watch the first period live, then watch the third when I woke up the next morning. I don’t remember as much as the rest of you do. But I’ll tell you what I do remember.
I remember heated debates in my second grade classroom about whether Heatley, Spezza or Alfredsson was the best player on the Sens. I remember every single kid in that class cheering on the local team, and being unable to talk about anything else throughout the entire playoff run.
I remember going to bed at night, lying awake staring at my ceiling, and thinking, they have to win. My naive, eight-year-old mind could not conjure up a scenario in which the 2007 Ottawa Senators would not win the Stanley Cup. They had come too far, battled too hard, sacrificed too much, for it all to be for nothing.
I remember the one time I was allowed to stay up for overtime. I will never forget the moment Daniel Alfredsson slipped that puck past Ryan Miller, because after that moment, there was no going back for me. I was hooked.
I remember serious discussions on the playground as I solemnly explained to my friends why the Anaheim Ducks were the absolute worst team to ever play in this league (or rather, second worst, after the Leafs), and why the Sens were objectively better in every way.
I remember seeing Sens flags in front of houses and Church of Alfie bumper stickers on cars. I remember wondering why anyone would ever cheer for a team other than the one based in their hometown, because who in their right mind would want to miss out on this kind of fun?
I remember waiting for my school bus the morning after it all ended with tears in my eyes, standing in stunned silence by my little brother’s side as we both tried to understand how this team could have possibly fallen short, and how this magical run, this run that had felt like it would go on forever, could have all been for nothing.
What I didn’t realize until much later was that the run wasn’t for nothing. I didn’t get to watch my team lift the Stanley Cup that year, but I did get these memories. These moments. 2007 will always be the year that I fell in love with hockey, and with this team in particular.
The 2016-17 season was a bittersweet one for me. If you’ve done the math, you’ve probably figured out by now that I am eighteen years old, and only a few weeks away from graduating High School. I went into this Sens season knowing it would be my last as a full-time resident of Ottawa (at least for the foreseeable future). I joked with friends and family that the team was sure to win it all as soon as I left town, and I set my expectations low.
And yet, as the run continued and the team kept winning, I started to see this season as a fitting conclusion to my time in Ottawa. I would get to experience one last exciting playoff run with the people of this city. For one last time, I’d get to honk at cars sporting Sens flags and strike up conversations with strangers just because I’d be wearing a Sens shirt. I’d get to walk into school and have teachers and students alike congratulate me on a big win. I’d get to talk about one of my favourite things in the world with just about everyone I met, because even non hockey fans would have something to say about the plucky local team that had magically made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
After the Sens were eliminated, I didn’t read any eulogies or watch any closing montages. I went to school hoping nobody would mention the game to me, and spent the next few days looking away every time I saw a Sens logo or passed a TV showing the playoffs. I threw myself into homework and my favourite author’s latest novel. I dismissed every notification from the NHL app and couldn’t bring myself to scroll through Twitter for more than a few minutes every day. I stayed away from offseason talk and player media availability, because I wasn’t ready to move on from the run. I hadn't quite let go of that alternate universe in which the Sens were gearing up for the Stanley Cup Finals.
Thursday’s loss hurt a lot more than I thought it would. It’s probably going to hurt for a long time. But at least this time, I know with absolute certainty that it wasn’t for nothing. I know that in the years to come, I’ll look back on this run and remember, not just the sting of elimination, but the moments.
I’ll remember Clarke MacArthur scoring his first goal in over two years, then clinching the first round series against the Bruins a few games later.
I’ll remember all the overtime wins and the multiple-goal comebacks.
I’ll remember being there, in the stands, when Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored four goals in one game.
I’ll remember Craig Anderson playing his heart out while his wife Nicholle battled cancer.
I’ll remember Erik Karlsson finally gaining the respect of the hockey world while playing on one foot.
And finally, I’ll remember all the people I met on Twitter and on this website during my first year as a Sens blogger.
So thank you, 2016-17 Ottawa Senators. Thank you for all the moments, thank you for bringing such wonderful people into my life, and thank you for helping so many young hockey fans fall in love with this team the same way I did ten years ago. I don’t know where I’ll be watching the games from next year or who I’ll be watching them with, but I know I’ll be watching, and I know I’ll never forget my last full year in Ottawa.
Here’s to more moments in the years to come.