March 11th, 2020 will live forever in the annals of sports history.
A night that began with uncertainty about what the immediate future entailed, ended with a sickening sense of dread. The minutes ticked down in that fateful contest between the Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings, but those still watching were more transfixed by their phones, tablets, and laptops. Constantly refreshing in the desperate search for more information, and perhaps a sign of hope.
The then-novel coronavirus had begun to take a foothold on North American shores, not long after seemingly being a world away. The virus wasted little time, kicking the door of the NBA down, and causing them to pause their season in an attempt to regroup.
The minutes ticked down, and those of us still viewing a relatively meaningless game between the Sens and Kings watched in a state of paralysis, as the world began to feel like a movie. Despite knowing it would likely be the last time we watched hockey for awhile, we sat in the collective grip of unprecedented anxiety, numb to the results of the contest in front of us.
We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, and even though it was the least of our worries, the indefinite absence of the game that defined us hurt like hell.
When recalling the months that followed the NHL’s ominous announcement of a postponed season, it’s important not to lose sight of what truly matters. While our hockey heroes were sidelined, our frontline workers took centre stage. It was a job they didn’t ask for, but never complained about. We owe them a debt that we can never repay, least of all because the sport we love could not return without them. The battle is still not over, and so much as already been taken from us. We must not relent, for their sake.
In the waning months of summer, hockey returned. In a playoff that we could never have imagined, 24 teams battled through the hardest-fought postseason in recent memory. Canada in particular rejoiced, with all of their teams being represented, varying only in the lengths of their respective stays.
Well, all but one.
While their fellow Canadians basked in the warmth of a summer postseason berth, fans of the Ottawa Senators found cause for anticipation off the ice. A roller coaster summer (miss you, Mark and Bobby), when all was said and done, ended with a new look, and the promise of reinforcements. With a wealth of draft picks, and sleek new jerseys, a new era was brewing in Ottawa. The excitement in the air was palpable, as we all held our breath until the fateful day arrived.
And then, utter jubilation:
After three years of painful, drawn-out goodbyes, fans of the Ottawa Senators finally got their due. Not another goodbye, but a long-awaited introduction. A young superstar bringing an injection of life into a dormant fanbase, waiting for a reason to believe.
More new faces would be added, from varying walks of NHL life. While they will contribute to the team to varying degrees of efficacy, their stories converge on a group of youngsters writing the first pages of their own. No longer content with passing mentions of being “a team”, they are a fresh, hungry group, ready to stake their claim to their own tales of grandeur.
And they are the ones that will lead this team into the future:
Whether it is the poised, somewhat stoic general on the back end; with a presence beyond his years, and laser-like precision, he calls to mind memories of heroes past. Carrying the promise of forging a legacy all his own.
Or the fiery middler up front; always leading the charge, driving his team’s attack, and putting his body on the line for victory, and the logo on his chest. Whether his gloves are on his stick, or they’ve been hastily dropped to the ice, he always seeks to “drag guys into the fight”.
And of course, there is the prodigy himself; fresh off of setting the world on fire, and awing viewers with displays of speed and spectacle. He projects to be the embodiment of hopes and dreams, decades in the making.
No, this season will not be an ordinary one. Opponents will be found closer to home, and an onerous schedule may forge the most battle-tested Stanley Cup champions to date, but regardless of how it plays out for the Ottawa Senators, there will be reason for excitement in the capital. Whether they are blessed with their first tastes of success, or more fortuitous draft positioning, the Sens will be a better team come the autumn of 2021.
So this one goes out to you, faithful patrons of Sens Army. Through thick and thin, rich and poor, victory and defeat, you have stood by this team. Friday will mark the 310th day since you last saw your beloved Senators take to the ice, but you never wavered for a second. Even though your team didn’t get to play in the summer, didn’t end up with the top pick in the draft, and perhaps made some moves that left you shaking your head, here you remain.
There is no fanbase in hockey that has endured so much, while capitulating so little. Though you’ve been given every reason to walk away, you have brandished your fandom, and unabashedly voiced your love for your team.
Now, nearly a full calendar year later, you get to watch them again. You get to watch the brilliance of Thomas Chabot, the relentless passion of Brady Tkachuk, the endless potential of Tim Stützle, and so much more.
You have earned this, and after what feels like millennia, it is two days from your grasp.
The Ottawa Senators are back.
WE are back.