One of the stranger aspects of being a sports fan in 2022 is that you are forced to care about so many things that are not directly related to the actual team playing the actual sport that you ostensibly cheer for. If you are a supporter of the Ottawa Senators, for instance, it is very difficult to not be acutely aware of the team’s (seemingly) dire financial situation. Some pay more attention to these things than others, but it’s impossible to completely ignore. You can’t just be a sports fan these days, you have to be an accountant too. It might even help to have an MBA. I admit that I find it a bit depressing at times.
On the other hand, I suppose we could have it worse; we could be baseball fans right now.
Almost three and a half years ago, the Sens’ latest attempt to secure a downtown arena blew up in spectacular fashion. The resulting lawsuits are scheduled to go to court later this year. In the meantime, however, the NCC has not settled on a suitable replacement for the failed Rendezvous Lebreton venture. This is how it came to be that Bruce Garrioch wrote an article on Monday that stated “it makes sense for the NCC to have the Senators as the centrepiece at LeBreton.” All of the relevant parties provided polite “No comment” when asked about a new potential bid, and so we’re plunged, once again, into speculation and debate about the business side of things.
The question of whether it makes sense for the Sens to move downtown is practically rhetorical at this point. The Canadian Tire Centre was state of the art when it was first built, but that was twenty-six years ago and it was called the Corel Centre (or the Palladium first for all of four weeks if you want to be pedantic about it). For a city that sprawls as far and wide as Ottawa, having your arena at the very edge of the western suburbs has the effect of making it difficult to access for a big portion of your potential fanbase. The list of problems goes on. There’s a reason that Eugene Melnyk, for all of the time he spends professing his love for Kanata, keeps going back to the well to try to get his operation moved downtown.
I’m not here to argue about the business merits of a potential move. I acknowledge that the Sens would almost certainly be better off in new digs downtown. I’d even say that I strongly hope that comes through for them. The prospect of attending play-off games at a downtown arena and then simply walking to any number of bars on Bank Street or in Little Italy to continue the celebration is practically intoxicating.
And yet, I find these exercises make me a bit nostalgic for some of the weird little things that make attending a game at the Canadian Tire Centre such a central part of the Sens fan experience.
For instance, if the arena really did move downtown then that would spell the end of the unique adventure that is navigating everyone’s favourite parking lot. Is it fun to leave the Canadian Tire Centre with the knowledge that you’re about to spend the next thirty minutes bumper-to-bumper in gridlock hell? Not on the surface, but piling into the car with friends and/or family, and turning on TSN1200 to listen to the absolutely unhinged postgame call-in show after a win is a particularly Sens in Kanata tradition. Sports talk radio might be one of my least favourite mediums out there, but damned if Todd from Renfrew doesn’t make a good point about Nick Paul’s heart and grit after the local heroes just completed a comeback in the third. I say this totally unironically: my enjoyment of that moment is enhanced tenfold by the fact that as I’m listening, I’m stuck in traffic with thousands of other Sens fans. It’s actually great, it feels like a shared experience and it’s unique to the weirdness that is the giant parking lot for the weird arena in Kanata.
There are some other parts of the arena experience that may seem silly on the surface but actually add some unique colour. For instance: what other arena bar is named “Bert’s” and is styled after an establishment in Barbados? “Let’s serve daiquiris at the hockey game” is the type of business model you just won’t find anywhere else.
Another aspect that I would miss if there were a new arena downtown is the history of the CTC. Maybe it seems strange to write about the “history” of a hockey arena, but the transition from the Civic Centre to the Corel Centre back in 1996 felt like the real moment that the team joined the big leagues; it didn’t hurt that the Sens proceeded to qualify for the play-offs in their first full season in their new digs. It’s not the most beautiful arena, it’s not the oldest, but it’s ours. There’s history in there and every time you walk through those doors, you get to live that history.
The last thing that I will miss if the team ever did leave Kanata is just how loud it can get in there. Maybe the hypothetical new arena would have even better acoustics, but one thing that I know for sure is that Sens fans can be almost impossibly loud in the CTC. I’m lucky enough to have been in attendance for some momentous play-off games years (the “Pageau” chant game, Dion Phaneuf’s OT winner against the B’s of recent vintage) and there were moments where I swear the building was shaking. Having been to so many games over the years, it’s a familiar reverberation. If the team did move downtown, I don’t doubt that the fans will do their best but there’s a chance I might still miss the special, specific type of loud from the CTC.
When it really comes down to it, I know the Sens should move downtown. Like everything in this world, the weird, old arena in Kanata’s time will come to an end. When that does eventually happen, though, I think I will miss it — at least a little bit.