Seeing the Ottawa Senators in action is sensational

senators-rangers-jim-obrien

Jim O’Brien of the Ottawa Senators goes head over heels during a game against the New York Rangers. (Adrian Brijbassi photo)

[This article on my favourite NHL team was a labour of love 🙂 — and was first published on Vacay.ca on April 16, 2013.]

Marc Dupont takes 20 minutes to put on his game-face. It’s thick black paint that the night would envy. When complete, the soft-spoken government worker looks like a menacing warrior ready to terrorize. Along with the paint, Dupont wears a gladiator outfit that cost $1,200 on eBay, carries a plastic sword and sometimes a giant flag with the emblem of his team, the Ottawa Senators.

His outfit is made of metal and hard plastic, with enough bulk that it makes it hard to do anything but stand. Turns out that’s a good thing, because when Dupont and his fellow gladiators — self-professed “Superfans” — go to a game they don’t have a seat anyway.

“We have an agreement with the team that they give us access to the arena and we come to boost up the crowd, add some spirit to the rink,” he said during a recent game against the New York Rangers, which the Senators won at Scotiabank Place.

Dupont and his friend Jesse Jodoin began the ritual of donning gladiator outfits in 2007, the year the Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals, losing in five games to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. They and other gladiators attend about 10 games a year each in costume.

Tips for Seeing the NHL Senators

The Sens’ gladiators have become one of the attractions at the NHL rink that seats 19,153. Along with the kid-friendly mascot, Spartacat, the gladiators pump up a crowd that is regarded as too quiet. When theToronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens play road games in Ottawa, it’s routine to hear fans of the visiting side drown out the home team’s supporters. This year, the Senators asked season-ticket holders to refrain from selling their seats to fans of rival teams, particularly the Leafs and Canadiens. The request was met with snickers from observers around the league, several of whom said the team should focus on getting more out of its own fans rather than thwarting efforts of others trying to reach the rink.

It’s a perplexing situation that has existed since the team’s inception in 1992. Despite the fact the Senators have been one of the NHL’s winningest teams over the past 12 seasons, the rink isn’t always full and it’s not always loud.

One reason is because of location. Scotiabank Place is the only NHL arena in Canada that isn’t within the urban centre of a city. It’s in Kanata, about 20 kilometres from downtown Ottawa, a drive that can be aggravatingly long, which is why most weekday home games start at 7:30 pm rather than 7 o’clock like in other Canadian markets. A downtown rink attracts a boisterous crowd ready to make a night of it, win or lose.

At Scotiabank Place, the overwhelming majority of attendees must drive. That means less drinking, which means less noise — and that’s not a bad thing. Senators fans are among the league’s most polite and respectful. If you’re a fan, you can follow the action without worrying if the hooligan next to you is going to drop his beer on your lap (unless of course your neighbour is wearing a Leafs jersey, in which case you’d be advised to find Dupont or Jodoin to heckle him into an early departure).

Before and after the games, Bert’s is jumping, with live music and sports action on 23 large TV screens. It’s a festive place, with tiki bar decor and other Caribbean touches inspired by Bert’s in Barbados, which Senators owner Eugene Melynk has a stake in. Concession booths at Scotiabank Place are, not surprisingly, overpriced but Bert’s prices and fare are what you would expect to find at any sports bar.

Ottawa Hotel for the NHL Stars

When making your decision on where to stay for the game, your first option should be the Brookstreet Hotel. Besides being extremely comfortable, the Brookstreet is the place where visiting NHL teams choose when they’re in town for a game. The players aren’t off-limits either. I found myself in an elevator with the Rangers’ Rick Nash and dining alongside some of his teammates at Perspectives restaurant.

“All of the teams have very specific menus they want us to create,” chef Clifford Lyness said. “More and more, we’re seeing requests for organic dishes. We work closely with the team’s nutritionists and sometimes the requests can be a challenge, but we always do whatever we can to meet their needs.”

While you likely won’t be eating from the same menu as the NHL stars at the Brookstreet, you’ll still enjoy a good-quality meal and a relaxing atmosphere with a nice view of the property’s golf course in the rear. The jazz lounge features music and local beer on tap, including brews from Ottawa’s Kichesippi Brewing Company and Beau’s.

The rooms are spacious and modern, with outlets for all your gadgets, HDTV, and room-darkening curtains. A minus is the lack of in-room complimentary WiFi (it costs $13.95 for 24 hours), but Options on the lobby level has a connection you can utilize.

Catching the On-Ice Action

The Senators are an admirable team to watch. Under second-year coach Paul MacLean, they compete, stick to their system and move as a unit, limiting the gap between the forward and the defence. (Yes, I’ve watched a few of their games.) With offensive stars Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza injured, they’ve managed to hold down a playoff spot (they’re currently sixth in the Eastern Conference) with strong team defence, outstanding goaltending and timely goals. Put on red jerseys and move them to Detroit and they might resemble some of the Red Wings teams that MacLean coached as an assistant under Mike Babcock.

The Senators have taken advantage of being underestimated this year. They put up an energetic effort, especially at home where they have a 13-3-3 record entering Tuesday night’s game against Carolina. If you want to see an NHL game and find it difficult or too expensive for a game in Montreal or Toronto, the Senators are a terrific third option in the eastern part of the country.

Ever since Scotiabank Place opened in 1996 as the much-cooler-sounding Palladium it has been graced with some of the best sightlines available in any NHL arena. The front rows of the upper deck will put you on top of the action. Like the Bell Centre in Montreal and Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the back rows don’t have any of the intimacy of the older hockey rinks, but that’s a situation fans have to get used to these days.

The lower-bowl views are outstanding. You’ll get a clear view of the action and because of the hush of the crowd be able to hear every scrape, whack and smack that takes place on the ice.

Read more on Vacay.ca.

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