This is What Hockey is About

(Editor’s note: I’d like you to join me in welcoming Brandon Maki, aka Karlssons of Anarchy, as a new writer at the site!)

In January of 2007, my dad took a trip to Ottawa. Though it was work-related, he managed to catch up with one of his good friends. A friend who happened to have Ottawa Senators season tickets. With my dad’s beloved Boston Bruins in town, it was safe to say they knew how they were going to spend their night.

Eight year-old me wasn’t much of a hockey fan. I liked it, watched it, but it certainly didn’t trump Batman on my list of priorities. But when my dad came home, he brought me a copy of SCORE magazine, Ottawa’s game day publication. I started flipping through the pages, and I was immediately intrigued. I took to YouTube to learn more about these hockey players who I found so interesting.

Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Wade Redden, Chris Neil, Chris Phillips, Ray Emery, and one in particular.

I came to learn that #12, Mike Fisher, had formerly been the captain of my hometown Sudbury Wolves. Then I learned about his physical, relentless style of play and he quickly became my idol.

I followed my new favourite team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals that year, I distinctly remember coming home from karate at the beginning of Game 1 against Buffalo. Jumping up and down in my gi yelling “Come on Mike!” as my hero scored the first goal of the series on a shorthanded breakaway. Though that season would end in heartbreak, I had finally become enamoured with the game of hockey, and with the Ottawa Senators.

The years have been hard for us Sens fans since then. There have been more downs than ups, but one thing that has remained above all else is our resilience, and love for this team.

Let me jog your memory back to the 2007-2008 season.

I know, I know, not one we remember very fondly. A year where the Senators winning the Stanley Cup was all but certain, ended with a locker room collapse and standings free fall that saw Ottawa swept in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. As tough as that loss was to watch, there was a moment that stuck out in my mind.

In the final minute of Game 4, with Ottawa down 3-1 and the series all but over, the crowd came to their feet in a standing ovation. The jumbotron showed a lady, decked out in Sens gear and sporting a sign that said “Win or Lose, We Love Our Sens!”.

Corny? Maybe, but it’s a sentiment that we as a fanbase have lived by for decades.

It’s the same sentiment I saw when I went to Game 4 vs Pittsburgh in 2013. After Ottawa was defeated 7-3, and I walked through the halls of Scotiabank Place feeling like my heart was in pieces, I could hear the audible chant of “Sens in Seven”.

That moment was a defining one for me as a fan of the Ottawa Senators. It reminded me that no matter how bad things get, this is my team. That I love them with all my heart, and that there is always hope.

Today, things are bleak. I can’t honestly recall a time where being a fan of the Ottawa Senators has been harder. After an incredible season wherein they were one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final, they have experienced one of the biggest falls from grace in sports history. Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman are seemingly on their way out the door and the fans have finally revolted against owner Eugene Melnyk, spawning what will likely be a ticket sales nightmare in 2019.

When I first started penning this piece, it was an angry one. I wanted to convey just how much I’ve been through with this team, and how much they were breaking my heart. I’m glad it’s taken a couple days to come out to my liking, because I’ve had time to think. I was struggling to process my emotions, and thoughts regarding the current state of the team and where to go from here.

Then, I saw a tweet that hit me like a train.

When I read this tweet, I was no longer a jaded 19 year-old university student, trying to make it as a writer while still being a huge fan.

Instead, I was eight years old again, sitting on the couch with my dad, my mom and my little brother on a warm spring night in 2007.

I was nine years old, standing in front of Mike Fisher as he knelt down to sign his autograph on my Ottawa Senators t-shirt.

I was 14, after my first playoff game chanting “Sens in Seven” with complete strangers.

I was 16, crushing a McDouble in honour of Andrew Hammond backpacking the Senators to the playoffs against all odds.

I was 18, staring at my dad in awe as the life-long Bruins fan chanted “Andy”, and jumped in jubilation when Kyle Turris scored to send Ottawa back to New York with a 3-2 series lead.

The Ottawa Senators are a part of my life. They have helped mould me into the man I am today. They have given me memories with my family that I wouldn’t trade for the world. They have made me happy, sad, proud, embarrassed, frustrated and everything in between.

But this is not the end.

I am a bigger Sens fan than Eugene Melnyk. I don’t get a salary from this team. But the things I do get are what will carry me through the rest of my life.

One day, I hope to have a son of my own. I’ll tell him the stories of Mike Fisher, Daniel Alfredsson, Kyle Turris, Chris Neil, and Erik Karlsson until he rolls his eyes at me, having heard them a thousand times. I will take him to games and arrange for him to meet his heroes and I will cheer for them, even if they don’t suit up in red and white.

Because that’s what hockey is about.

If things were pleasant all the time, what would be the point? Washington Capitals fans are having the summer of their lives because they’ve waited so long for this. They’ve been with their team through the worst of times, and it finally paid off with the ultimate victory.

That’s what I want.

No matter what happens, I will cheer for this team. If Erik Karlsson is traded, if they don’t win one damn game next season, if Eugene Melnyk fires the coaching staff, gives himself the “C” and suits up as a player coach, I will cheer for the Ottawa Senators.

They are my team. I love them dearly, and no amount of dark times can change that.

I imagine you are too.

So when you doubt how much more you can take, think back to when you were a kid.

Think back to meeting your favourite players, to going to your first game, to playing road hockey and imagining you were Daniel Alfredsson.

That’s what being a fan is.

We are bigger Sens fans than Eugene Melnyk, and we will outlast him. We will outlast these dark times.

Because that’s what hockey is about.

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