Guest Post: When a Leafs fan moves to Ottawa
Don't Fear The Reaper
BY CHRIS CARTER
When I moved to Ottawa nearly fours ago, it was with the implicit understanding I would remain true to the Blue and White.
Behind enemy lines in the Battle of Ontario, I made no secret of my allegiance. When conversations with new neighbours invariably turned to hockey, within minutes I was uttering phrases like "Leafs Nation" and "the blood runs blue" – usually to baffled howls of laughter.
My wife tolerated my open affair with the Leafs until one day she pointed out that, as our children were growing up and attending school in Ottawa with hundreds of other little Sens fans, it wasn't fair of me to diminish their participation in the collective experience by creating confusion over loyalties.
So I grudgingly agreed to go underground.
Now, I've never really been too exercised with hatred for the Senators. It's hard to hate a team that so generously rolled over for the Leafs in the playoffs year after year.
But the blood still runs blue.
And I had to watch as a team fashioned after the Romans enjoyed playoff success, even reaching the Stanley Cup finals, while the Leafs spiralled downward in a decadent malaise resembling a dying empire's last days.
It's not like the Sens haven't had their their own troubles – contract issues, the loss of key players, unreliable goaltending and their own no-trade clause outrage with Dany Heatley. How did they overcome this while the Leafs burned?
Their formula for (moderate) success seems rather simple when you boil it down:
1. A coach, first Bryan Murray and now Cory Clouston, with a system and the trust of the players to make it work.
2. A captain who rises to the occasion. Daniel Alfredsson is the target of so much Leafs Nation scorn for a reason: He's good. Few players combine heart, ability and character like him.
3. Truculent players, like Chris Neil, who are tough but – here's a novel idea – talented enough to provide some secondary scoring.
4. One rock-solid, if not flashy, player who anchors the blueline year after year even as other players come and go. Like Chris Phillips, who's merely +108 for his career in Ottawa. Plus one-hundred-and-eight!
Sure the Sens are blessed with a couple of high scoring centremen and have drafted decently enough to bring along replacements as burgeoning stars priced themselves off the roster – but those four elements are the keys, the supporting columns in their coliseum, as far as I can see.
And after four years I can't help but at least admire them, while exchanging secret signals with the fellow travelers hiding amidst the Sens army, hoping the Leafs have finally found a way to stop the bleeding.
MAIN PHOTO: JONATHAN HAYWARD/CANADIAN PRESS