HOCKEY WILL TEAR US APART
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Buffalo Soldiers: Part V
GAME 5: OTTAWA 3 at BUFFALO 2 (OT)
Senators win series 4-1

I would drive 250 km
and I would drive 250 km more
just to be the girl who drove 500 km
to jump up when you score

I spent 10 hours yesterday on the road and 5 hours at Scotiabank Place. 10 hours gazing at the 401 and 5 hours at my happy place. I nearly cried out of delusional happiness when we entered into the parking lot and Sens flags, jerseys, shirts, foam fingers, puck-heads, pom-poms permeated the place.

I've never been to Scotiabank Place, and I felt a little silly about spending almost half a day on the road until I realized that this place is my spiritual home, plunked out in the middle of the suburbs. Cyclone Taylor. Silver Seven. Palladium. There Alfie's huge beautiful face greeted me on a flag and nobody was screaming insults at me and I felt so validated. This is home. The sun shone down so intensely that Scotiabank Place had the appearance of an oasis in the desert.

I don't mind afternoon games, but -- heatstroke.

I was going to die of heatstroke if the Senators didn't win because I was going to be so dehydrated from crying and sitting there numbly that I would keel over and die.

Hundreds of Sens fans plunked themselves down on lawn chairs and beach towels in front of a SensVision LED screen, which was remarkably clear on the sunny day. You could have your photo taken with a cut-out of the Sens, 2006-7 edition, and this was probably the most popular: a girl grumbled as she waited for 20 minutes, watching a daughter-and-father duo make their way with every single player in the first row. A radio station right beside them started giving away jerseys to correct trivia questions, and had I been louder and closer to the middle, I could've walked away with one. Nobody knew that Spezza, not Neil or McGrattan, holds the Senators' record for the most PIMs in one period (Philly slugfest, 03-04).

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When the game starts, though, all eyes are on the screen. Nobody moves -- except for kids that skip about, whining for more food or going to meet Spartacat. Cheers burst out spontaneously, and when it feels like things are getting too anxious and nervous, a pair comes by with a huge Go Sens Go sign scrawled on a piece of cloth the size of my bed to rouse the crowd. Alfie is greeted with bursts of Alfie! Alfie! Alfie! But it feels like the crowd is like me -- I can't cheer when my fingers are being gnarled by my mouth. We stand up for the anthems and sing along to O Canada, but we aren't at the game so we're allowed to be a little bit reserved.

(Note: I'm attempting to be as accurate as I can with the tide of the game and what happened and all that, but all I remember of yesterday is Alfie cutting across 3 Sabres to score in overtime. Everything else is a blur.)

The Sabres are a desperate team, and it's obvious in the way they feed off the noise in HSBC Arena, but it's nothing to be feared. They came out this way in nearly all the games, but they've never been able to maintain it throughout. I'm not worried when they score off an Emery give-away, only praying that Emery holds it to just a 1-0 lead in the second period. We can come back from 1-0.

Heatley, who hasn't scored in this series thus far, wrists the puck in on a 2-on-1. The crowds jump up and explode. A photographer or cameraman aims his lens at my face, jumping up and down and waving my new scarf like a drunk soccer fan.

On a quick 2-on-1, Spezza taps the puck in. 2-1. It hits me then, that if we win this game, we are only 4 wins away from Stanley. That we are representing the Eastern Conference, that we would be one of the only two games left. That all the heartache about Jeff Friesen would evaporate in a fit of alcohol and happiness.

The Senators insist on making this difficult -- strings of undisciplined and totally unnecessarily penalties result in killing a ~1:30 long 5-on-3. Redden, Alfie and Phillips do it, but we can't hang on long enough. Afinogenov, who's buzzed around all series, stickhandling in and out of our defence, taps the puck in on a power-play. I'm not expecting the team to be rattled, but if we don't get the next goal, I doubt we can win game 6. And game 7. Thank gawd I am just a fan: I am allowed to think like this.

I want to cheer during overtime, but it's impossible. The tension is palpable, every shot deserving of a relieved ohhhhh or a disappointed awwwww. But I get the sense, from the way the camera zooms in on Alfie, from the way the players determinedly clear the puck and fore-check and the way they aren't rattled by overtime, aren't rattled by the HSBC crowd, that we are not walking away from this with anything less than the first goal.

And Alfredsson ... Alfredsson, Alfredsson who was the one to let Pominville walk into Emery last season, who stood stoically in the dressing room to answer questions after every playoff failure, who gave back money when the franchise was in trouble, who stood in the cold for a Save-Our-Sens rally, picks up the puck, going against 3 Sabres players, and releases a shot that sails over Miller and into the net and wins the series for us.

I don't know what else happens next because at this point, the crowd jumps up in a throe of joy and everyone is hugging, shaking hands, screaming, pom-poms in the air, hands waving in fits of Alfie, Alfie, Alfie!

Eventually, the image of Emery grinning with his Eastern Championship hat, placed crookedly on his head, beams in. The Prince of Wales trophy is presented, and I am terrified that Alfie has touched it. I think it's Redden that finally touches it, but it doesn't really matter, I realize. After the euphoria of making it into the Finals, he will wake up and realize that it's not enough. It's really not. We are not the past two Canadian teams; we are not Calgary or Edmonton; we are not Cinderella. We are not satisfied with a Stanley Cup finals berth. We want Stanley.

I wish I could stay longer to party and drink with the rest of Ottawa, but it's a 5 hour drive and I'd like to be home before midnight. Horns honk and we are loud enough to drown out the sound of a nearby car alarm. Life is beautiful. I watch the sun sulk beneath the horizon, and everything is surreal -- we are in the Stanley Cup Finals, we are the closest we've ever been, and this from the same team that lost to the Leafs more times than I care to keep track of, the same team that broke my heart in a million pieces in 2002-3, the same team that lost to Buffalo in a reversal of the series we just played. It is difficult. It is incredibly hard for a team to believe in itself, for all the pieces to come together. After all these years, after all the heartache, we are as far as we've ever been, a path marked by delirious tears and bitterness.

It really seems so simple, if you break it down, but this has been so difficult. The Senators had to learn to lose in so many ways, going down 3-1, going up 3-1, to lose both times, blowing game 7s, not showing up, losing open games, losing tight games. This is why Sabres fans shouldn't mourn too much: your team isn't ready yet. Save for a miracle, like the ones experienced by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes, the core of teams need time to bond and believe in each other as much as they believe in themselves. They need to find a reason.

I catch only Buffalo's side of things on the news. Every player being interviewed looks as if they are about to cry. I'm certain that they will or already have.

I go to bed in my Alfredsson t-shirt and dream of -- what else? -- what may come.

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I cried as much as I cheered yesterday. This whole situation seems surreal, like a dream come true -- Alfredsson with the series winner after giving up the series winner last season, a nearly mirror reversal of the series last season.

Yet for all of the talk of what's happened so far, and what may happen, I am just glad that I get to watch more Senators hockey.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Soble said...

I am also a Sens fan in Toronto and have been reading your blog for most of the season. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this city where you are scorned even mentioning the Sens. I've been persecuted for years; but I don't fight back because I know our day will come. Actions speak louder than words.
I know what you mean about Scotia Bank Place feeling like a "spiritual home". Especially for those of us who live in Toronto, it feels like a place where we can be free. Where we are majority.
Basically, I just wanted to thank you for you dedication and talent in writing about the Senators. You always seem to capture what the rest of us are thinking and it just feels so good to not be alone in this way. None of my friends truly understand, like a fellow Sens fan.
Now, let's finish off what we started. We want/deserve/will earn the Stanley Cup.

20 May, 2007 12:12  
Anonymous PRQ said...

Glad you could be there. It's a terrific venue, although the location is a bit of a shame. I managed to make it to a game against Washington in February '06: it was the worst possible in-house outcome, a 1-0 loss, but it was still a great experience.

The thing that you first notice about the place (when you're inside) is that it's full of fans. REAL fans, real people, not suits with sushi. It's fantastic.

20 May, 2007 12:56  
Blogger d-lee said...

I take a modicum of offence to your "Carolina experienced a miracle" commentary, but that's neither here nor there.

Glad you made the choice to drive to Ottawa instead of Buffalo. Glad you got to experience that with your peeps.

From a selfish point-of-view, I'm really glad you guys beat Buffalo so they'll quit bitching about us. All season long, all I heard out of their fans was how we "stole" the POW and the Cup from them. Now they'll stop hating us. Then again, they probably won't.

Best of luck in the finals

20 May, 2007 17:01  
Blogger Senator42 said...

Glad you could make it up to Ottawa for the 'experience'. I was still stuck in Toronto watching the game on my boob tube. I thnk I gave my baby a mini-heart attack when I jumped out of my seat when Alfredsson scored the winner.
This meant a lot to us. To win in this fashion. I was at the ScotiaBankPalce last year for Game 5 when Alfie let Pommenville walk in and tap it past Emery. The dejection in the arena was palatable.
That feeling has finally been erased from my nightmares.
My family will return 'home' and join our bretheren when there is a parade to celebrate an 80 year old absence in the Nation's capital.

21 May, 2007 10:01  
Anonymous Tom L said...

AQG,

As stated on SR, congratz and enjoy the finals. I'm not rooting for anyone at this point and am purely interested in them as an intellectual exercise.

Ta,

p.s. D-L, you know you guys stole our Cup last year, just admit it ;)

p.p.s. That's a joke, my good man!

21 May, 2007 10:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Sens fans in Toronto. Michael Bhardwaj here. I'm with CBC Radio in Ottawa and I'm looking for islands of fans out in the world beyond Ottawa.

If any of you plan on coming up to Ottawa during the finals, let me know. I'm at michael_bhardwaj@cbc.ca. Would love to whip this city up with Sens love from Toronto.

22 May, 2007 16:44  

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