by Kristopher Bras
The loss of Daniel Alfredsson during the summer wasn’t really on my mind during the first game of the 2013/14 NHL season. A new hero stepped up for the Senators that night: Craig Anderson. He began his year in style with a shutout versus the Buffalo Sabres. Alfie’s absence stung more the following evening, when Ottawa met Toronto, a feud which 12 years ago would have filled my living room with loud, drunken young men. The rivalry isn’t quite the same these days. Most of the key players that made the Battle of Ontario tick are long gone. Alfie’s departure was the end of an era in Ontario hockey, and he will be missed like an old friend.
Many Ottawa faithful are still angry about Daniel’s departure from the Senators. They feel like he left our team on bad terms. With opinions and harsh words flying around the Internet like breakfast orders at a Gabriel’s Pizza on Saturday morning, I’ve been wondering what my old friend Chad Kehoe thinks of the free agent signing that stole Daniel away from Ottawa. Chad was one of my only staunch allies back when the Battle of Ontario was still relevant. Unfortunately, we had a falling out in 2003, so when he moved to Vancouver later that year, I never got the chance to say goodbye.
Chad and I were Senators fans in a stubborn Canadian small town: few deep-seated, familial hockey allegiances found there had been influenced by the hockey team’s regular season success. When the Leafs and the Senators met in the first round of the 2000 NHL Playoffs, the entire town divided. By divided, I mean the whole town was cheering for the Leafs while Chad and I stood behind our Senators, (yes, I’m exaggerating a bit).
The Leafs took the first game. The next night, we were hanging out on my front porch with the rest of our pals when we got the bright idea to drive to Toronto and show our hockey pride. We had little money and no tickets. What we did have was Chad’s beat up Mustang and a vague notion that we would have little trouble sneaking into an NHL playoff game on Saturday night.
My mother snorted at the idea, but nevertheless volunteered sixty dollars to our cause during a time when keeping the lights and heat turned on was a battle we often lost, and cheap Giant Tiger hotdogs were called “groceries.” She always had an instinctual understanding that young men need to exorcise such boyish stupidity from their system in order to have any hope of ever growing up. With her approval, we left Arnprior at around one in the morning.
The Ottawa Sun used to publish “Go Sens Go” signs to include in playoff game-day newspapers, and we stole as many as we could from sleepy convenience store clerks before we left town. We also photocopied a hundred of them or so. We covered the Mustang with Sens flags and signs, dubbed it the Sensmobile, (such wit!) and started zig-zagging through back-roads and small highways on our way to Toronto. We avoided the 401 to escape detection from police, since I was drinking beer in the passenger side. As our Ottawa Sun newspaper zone turned into Toronto Sun territory, we began stopping at truck stops to pull all of the “Go Leafs Go” cards from their newspapers and replace them with the Senators versions. We were the most dedicated hockey fans on the planet.
Toronto was a blast. We paced and heckled downtown Toronto all day, angry red dots in a deep blue sea of Leaf jerseys. As we jeered the multitude of Leaf fans, one of them stopped to tell us how brave we were. We laughed. “No, seriously,” she said. “You’re really, really brave.” Chad and I were unfazed. We moved on to take pictures of each other spitting on the Toronto Maple Leaf sidewalk tiles in front of the Air Canada Centre. At one point, we wandered into the Toronto Police station to mess with the “pigs,” only to find out that they were actually terrific sports. We got pictures of them arresting us for wearing Sens jerseys within the Toronto city limits. They even let us get away with a few donut jokes, (how absolutely maverick of us) and gave us each a donut to prove that they did, indeed, keep them on hand.
Not long after we left the station, hockey players appeared in front of us, on the other side of the street. Daniel Alfredsson and good old Patrick Traverse, whom Chad and I had already met, were walking quickly down the sidewalk near the ACC. We immediately chanted “Go Sens Go” in unison at the top of our lungs. Alfie and Patty turned, smiling. Traverse gave us an emphatic fist pump. We didn’t chase them down or anything; they walked with the purpose of men who had somewhere to be, or in this case, a war to win.
Later that night, we listened to our heroes lose handily by a 5-1 score on Chad’s car radio. It was the first of four playoff series between the two teams, of which Ottawa would lose all four. It was a bitter, hateful, fuck you rivalry. And I miss the hell out of it. At the time of my writing this, it’s been 12 games since Alfredsson’s last in a Senators uniform. It’s also been 12 years since Chad left for Vancouver. And 12 years from now, nobody will complain about the circumstances under which Alfie left Ottawa. But, damn, will we miss him. Just as I can’t remember why Kehoe and I weren’t on speaking terms when he left Arnprior. I just miss my friend.