Like so many of these stories, it begins with my dad.
My parents separated when I was very young. My dad’s career ended up taking him outside of Canada while I stayed with my mom in the Ottawa Valley. Every few months, he’d come visit and we’d stay in a hotel downtown. As many fathers living away from their child do, he was searching for a way to bond with his child, and he decided on sports.
One of the greatest developments for him came in 1992 when a new team started to play professional hockey in the city of Ottawa. He was thrilled that he could take me to games without driving to Montreal. And so we’d crowd into the old Civic Centre and watch the Ottawa Senators lose. Being a kid, I didn’t care. I got to watch an NHL team live with my dad as they played opponents like Hartford, Quebec, and Winnipeg 1.0 in a rink where their logo was the same size at centre ice as the local OHL team. Looking back on it, that was really bizarre, wasn’t it?
Anyways, the one conundrum here was this: my father was and is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.
Despite his best efforts, his hopes to win my loyalty to the blue and white were dashed by the ruling party of the mean playgrounds of Almonte. Every recess we’d play outside with a tennis ball and our white plastic mini sticks, blades curved from stovetop heat. We’d each pick a player to be. For most of us, we were growing up with the team. We didn’t care that they spent four years at the bottom of the standings. We wanted to call dibs on being Alexei Yashin or Alexandre Daigle. We were kids. We didn’t know any better. We were enraptured by the Ottawa Senators, our heroes, for better and most often for worse.
Flash forward ten years. I’m 18 and I’m moving out west to Vancouver for school; exciting times for any kid. It was the lockout year and I spent most of it making friends and trying new things. No hockey, no problem. That first summer of university I went back home to Ottawa and realized I’d missed it more than I expected. When the league started up again the next year, I stood alone in the school pub, watching the Senators play the Maple Leafs. It was fun. It was comforting.
Over a decade later, British Columbia is now my home. I’ve lived out west my entire adult life and I don’t regret the decision to leave. Part of me will always be connected to Ottawa, though. I grew up on humid summers, freezing rain, and chip wagons. And I still love the Ottawa Senators. They link me to my childhood and my hometown. As humans we try and find things that remind us of our pasts. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. For me, one of those things is my hockey team.
Like my dad with the Leafs, I may fail to coax my future children to cheer for the team their dad does. But that’s okay. They will have their own journeys that take them to unexpected places. I hope they find a way to connect them to their hometowns the way I do with mine.
That’s why I’m a fan of the Ottawa Senators.