Why Ottawa hockey fans want to stop traffic for their team

Sens Mile came alive after Ottawa’s team knocked off the Montreal Canadiens and advanced to the conference semi-final

Graham Hughes/CP

Ask a cynic about the people who cheer for the Ottawa Senators, and you’ll hear about how you can hear a pin drop at Scotiabank Place when the Senators play, how the fans can’t even pack their own building when the Maple Leafs pay a visit, and then various other laments about how the team plays in the suburbs and what a waste of time it is to make the commute. Mostly, you’ll hear all of that from people who prefer blue and white to red and black, and just like to complain.

Those cynics, for the most part, can’t be entirely dismissed. The Senators’ arena is loud when it matters, but rarely when it doesn’t. Daniel Alfredsson, the team’s beloved captain and a man basically beyond reproach inside city limits, is booed on his own ice by hostile Toronto fans when the Leafs are in town. And, of course, everyone wishes for a downtown arena. No matter its success, the team will always be the Kanata Senators to any and all of its detractors, a team indelibly linked to the suburb it calls home.

None of that mattered when the Senators embarrassed the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth game of their Eastern Conference quarter-final series. They’d already skated circles around the Canadiens in the third game, a 6-1 rout at Scotiabank Place. And they’d won twice more, including once in overtime, conceding just a single loss to the Habs heading into the fifth game. The Sens took Montreal to task in the clincher, surrounded by the more than 20,000 rabid fanatics who fuel the Bell Centre, one of the continent’s loudest arenas. Six goals and sixty minutes after it all started, the Sens were through to the second round.

Fans congregate at Elgin Street and Maclaren Street whenever the Sens win big. That intersection lies in the middle of Sens Mile, the stretch of Elgin Street devoted to hockey madness during playoff runs. Bars occupy three corners. One of them has a lot of very big screens, the other a top-notch beer selection, and the other a popular outdoor patio on the second level. Maybe those selling points have nothing to do with it, but the army of Senators fans—they’re loud, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise—probably doesn’t care why they choose that corner. They just do, and the rest is a party.

Celebrations at Elgin and Maclaren always follow the same formula: congregate until there’s critical mass, parade into the intersection when Elgin’s traffic hits a red light, and linger as long as possible when that light turns green. Eventually, police intervene and help traffic along, and everyone keeps screaming and chanting, and there’s usually a mock Stanley Cup bobbing along with the crowd. Such was the scene last night.

It was only the first round of 2013’s playoff marathon; an initial test, passed. Already, Sens fans are hungry for more. They came so close in 2007, when they fought their way to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose decisively to the Anaheim Ducks. They’re itching to get back there, to burst into the street after the final buzzer, and to not have to worry about traffic getting in the way. They want to own Elgin and Maclaren, just for a night. The cynics who openly detest the Sens would be forced into their homes, isolated from the rest of the city’s glee, brooding and talking about next year. Maybe some of them—not many, and only quietly—will even cheer for the Sens, if they end up Canada’s best chance at a Stanley Cup. Sweet justice for the home crowd.

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