I was not an athletic child. Sure, I dabbled in tennis, soccer, and badminton, but never seriously, and my use of the word ‘dabbling’ here means ‘played once in a while just to mention in this post.’ Naturally, I got older and more sedentary, which meant that my minimal interest in sports was over out of elementary school… until my senior year of high school.
Listen, I was the last person I’d expect to be into sports, but there was, as they say, a perfect blend of factors happening at the same time to make an impossible situation happen. Picture this: it’s April 2017, classes are effectively over and all there’s left to do is write mocks that don’t count and study for exams in May, but senioritis is hitting you hard. Also, the weather’s great. Also, you’re bored with all this free time (your friends live all the way across town in a two hour bus ride).
There’s a sense of excitement in the city when your sports team is doing well in the playoffs, and it’s one I wish I remember well because I haven’t been able to have that experience since. I’ll try my best to remember, though. Students were wearing their Sens jerseys to school. The day after a game, win or loss (but especially a win), social media and newspapers and people were buzzing. Walking downtown, there were banners of “Go Sens Go” hung up next to restaurants and bars.
I wasn’t a fan of Ottawa during the 2007 playoffs, nor the 2015 playoffs, so I don’t know what it was like when the Ottawa Senators were respected as a good team around the league, nor was I around for the legendary Hamburglar run. So for me as a first-time fan during the 2017 playoffs felt special. Nobody expected the Sens to go as far as they did, and it felt like they were finding amazing ways to win. There were so many overtime games. A beautiful four-goal comeback game by Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Erik Karlsson carrying the team through on half an ankle. Bobby Ryan, who briefly resurrected his career and wrote a wonderful piece in The Player’s Tribune that captured the magic perfectly: Why Not Us?
I don’t want to talk about the absolute brutal rollercoaster it’s been being a fan post those 2017 playoffs. Brutal is one word for it. It’s amazing I’ve been able to stay a fan at all. We entered a rebuild, which is basically code for selling off all your good players right now in the hopes that you can get better young players. Rebuilds, however, take time, and it’s been almost four years now.
But why have I stayed a fan? For one, Sens games gives me something to look forward to. What is sports, after all, if not entertainment? I’m able to have a game to be excited about three times a week, which is no small feat. Anticipating fun, I’ve realised, is a big part of the enjoyment of the actual event. And when the Sens win, it’s a huge mood booster.
For another, the stories can be truly inspiring. Who doesn’t love a good Cinderella run (see: Ottawa Senators 2017 playoffs, or Vegas Golden Knights 2018 playoffs)? I wasn’t a fan of Alex Burrows the player by the end of his career here in Ottawa, but the way he went from being undrafted to building his career, literally league by league, into a legitimate NHL player for the Vancouver Canucks is a great underdog story. Who wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion when Bobby Ryan, who grew up in a very tumultuous household and checked into rehab for alcohol abuse, came back and scored a hat trick in his very first home game? These teams are made of people with incredible talent, but also incredible work ethics and passion.
Finally, if there’s anything that sports has taught me, it’s that bad teams become good teams become bad teams. (A different cycle is if you’re a mediocre team, in which you’re stuck in a cycle of mediocrity.) As such, I believe in this team’s ability to get better. It’s been… really difficult sometimes. They’ve been 30th, 31st, 30th, and they’re 30th right now out of 31 teams.
But I thought this on Monday’s game when we beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2. Sure, they’ve lost a lot of games this year, enough to be 30th in the league, but they’re also showing flashes of brilliance. It’s a younger, faster team that is going through some growing pains. Next year, I think they’ll be better. The game against Winnipeg on Monday felt complete, and it felt like we were seeing signs of a bright future.
And maybe that’s a metaphor for life. This is going to seem like a bit of a stretch, to make this post deep, but it’s really something I’ve been thinking about. Maybe you’re going through a rough patch right now. Maybe you’re changing your life completely, and you need to break up with your partner, or switch jobs, or lose some friends. And maybe that sucks, and life is hard for a long time. But maybe it gets better. Maybe you come out of it stronger and better than ever before.
Do the Sens make the playoffs next year? I don’t know. Maybe they’re a bubble team. Maybe they’re a lottery team again. Whatever it is, I’m in for the long haul.
But I do know one thing: nobody can accuse me of being a bandwagoner now.