I know I’ve already written ad nauseum about the stink-factor of Ottawa Senators hockey over the past five years, and I’ve personally resolved to put that mentality behind me so that I can embrace what looks like a new day rising for this team and its fans. And I also feel the need to explicitly state that I don’t consider the past half-decade a waste despite the dearth of on-ice success because we still rendered copious amounts of entertainment from this absurd and illogical phenomenon we call Sens hockey. And thus, in the spirit of gratitude, I submit five reminiscences on this summer’s day.
The Year of the Duke
Like most players in franchise history, you have to set aside the bitter departure to fully appreciate the time spent, but Anthony Duclair had an exhilarating if brief tenure in Ottawa. With 31 goals in 87 games as a Senator, Tony D often justified the price of admission all on his own. Of course no one moment stands out from Duclair’s time in Ottawa quite like his hat trick, capped in overtime, against the team who shipped him to the nation’s capital essentially as a gift. In the grand scheme of Senators hockey history, Duclair’s achievements don’t amount to much but we watch the games for fun and the Duke made Ottawa fun to watch for one season and a fraction.
This First Game Ever (but not really)
After the lockouts, fans approached NHL hockey with trepidation but after the pandemic ended the 2020-21 season prematurely we didn’t have many reservations (except maybe health and safety). I literally cannot remember a regular season game I anticipated more than this one. Even if we knew the team would stink that season, we suddenly had Tim Stützle, sick uniforms, and the first game to watch in months. Other than beating the Leafs, obviously, I’ll always remember most the expansion team vibes this roster had. Go back and check out that roster. Seattle looks like a dynasty by comparison. And they beat Toronto. The empty building, the unfamiliar faces, and the return of the 2D logo all made this game immediately unforgettable for me even though it also amounted to nothing in the big picture.
No matter how obvious, how could any of us tire of reliving this classic? This instantly became one of the most celebrated regular season games in team history. And for whatever reason, it felt like for the legions of us following this game collectively online, we just knew. If one single hour of Senators hockey justified five years of abysmal emptiness, it came in the form of this laughingstock five-goal comeback. In fact, it makes it even funnier because such an afterthought team pulled off the improbable feat.
While acknowledging the vital roles of Ottawa’s five core players, no one has made the past five seasons tolerable quite like Thomas Chabot. Between the inhuman workload, the rotating cast of partners not named Artem Zub, and the dubious lack of scoring talent around him, Chabot’s ability to keep the Sens competent as an NHL team has brought Tommy much nearer to the Erik Karlsson echelon than we expected with our overly cautious optimism. I know perfectly well that Chabot will never do the things Karlsson did but Tommy has made the post-Karlsson transition so seamless that he belongs in a special category all his own.
The Meme Team
If this team and its fans can find one reason to hold their heads high despite all the losing, I’d start with the sheer volume of content both official and homebrewed. ZUUUB. Alex Trebek. The bike helmet. Sickos. Tyler Ennis. I could go on. It takes a special kind of team-fanbase rapport to make must-watch hockey out of a roster that perennially finds itself in the basement. If not despite the on-ice struggles but because of them, this team and forged community have galvanized in a way so of their time and place. It all has felt so unmistakably Ottawa and for that I won’t lament the past five years I’ve squandered following this ever-changing band of outcasts.