Thursday, April 19, 2007

Your Ottawa Senators

From the diary of Samuel Pepys, Jr.:

Being new to Canada and the fair city of Ottawa, I have made every effort to acclimatize myself to the culture. In particular, I have noted an upsurge in interest in the local team called the Senators.

With this in mind, I recently perambulated upon the Parliament Hill where I enquired of a uniformed gentleman where I might locate these Senators of Ottawa. I was pleasantly surprised to be told that I was mere meters away from their home, a majestic arena appropriately named The Senate.

My good fortune continued when the uniformed gentleman informed me that the Senators were "in session" that very afternoon. Thinking that tickets to this game would be at a premium, I rushed to the arena and enquired about purchasing a ducat for the afternoon encounter.

Perhaps the ticket seller recognized me as a foreigner and wished to provide me with a pleasant introduction to your national game. Whatever the reason, he informed me that admission was free.

Eager to experience what so many Canadians had described to me as the fastest game on ice, I accepted the ticket seller’s kind offer. Despite my late arrival, I was given a prime seat in an upper deck area called the gallery.

To be honest, my first reaction was one of disappointment. I had expected an expansive ice sheet and was instead presented with a narrow carpeted playing area.

At first I thought that perhaps I was in the wrong arena. But an usher or "guide" assured me that this was indeed the home of the Senators. The fact that the room was awash in red, which I understand is the teams’s color, was indeed confirmation that this must be the right place.

Now, as a fan of the multi-day play of cricket, I am used to a slow, dare I say, leisurely pace of play. But these Canadians have clearly outdone us by a significant margin. To describe the Senators’ play as leisurely is to describe the drying of paint as rapid. In fact, if my eyes did not deceive me, there were a few players on either side who were actually asleep.

This latter observation was perhaps not surprising given the average age of the Senators and their opponents. I pride myself on not being an ageist. However, when it comes to athletic pursuits, I must express my bias for games played by those in their physical prime.

I asked the usher to point out the best hockey player on the floor. She gave me a quizzical look but then quickly pointed to a greying gentlemen she identified as Frank Mahovolich. She said that Mr. Mahovolich played for the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens. Given that I had heard that these two teams had not made the playoffs, I could only assume that Mr. Mahovolich was a late season acquisition by the Senators.

Being a novice fan, at times, I was uncertain that what I was viewing actually constituted hockey playmaking. However, when I asked the usher about one rather pointed exchange, she remarked that the Senator in question was a master at stickhandling and well known for his buck-passing abilities. Thus, I knew that this must have been hockey I was watching.

In the end, I cannot say that I was taken with your national sport. This is undoubtedly due to my unfamiliarity with the rules for I am sure that, just as you might be mystified by the intricacies of cricket, I will enjoy the game much more when I understand how it is played. The usher assured me that once the Senators go "into committee", the action really heats up.

In fairness, I did not sit through the entire game. As I left the arena, I felt that I should perhaps give Canada’s other national sport, curling, a try. Having heard the expression "in the house" used in relation to that other ice-bound pastime, I asked a member of the constabulary if there was a house nearby where I could watch another sporting contest. He laughed and pointed me mere meters westward to an arena he called the House of Commons. I did not have time that day to take in "an end or two" (if that is the correct phrase) but I promise to do so soon and report on my impressions of what I believe the natives call the "roaring game."

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