When I picked up and moved myself, everything I owned, and all my future hopes and dreams from Ottawa to Toronto in late 2012, I even packed a pair of (metaphorical) boxing gloves. “I’m going to be that same kind of obnoxious fan for the Senators in enemy territory as all those Leaf fans I’ve been dealing with my whole life at the Civic Centre/Palladium/Corel Centre/Scotiabank Arena/Canadian Tire Centre,” I said to myself. With my gloves up and ready to do battle on their turf, I discovered something very interesting. Being a Senators fan living in Toronto is actually pretty easy, fun, and surprisingly less stressful than being one in Ottawa. So as my way of introducing myself and how I approach being a Sens fan in the capital of Ontario, I humbly give you my suggestions and observations of wearing my Alfie jersey on the TTC and screaming “Go Sens Go” at packed Toronto bars for going on nearly a decade now. Well, at least in times when the only pandemic we had to worry about was the thousands of Leafs fans at every Sens Leafs game.
1) No one actually cares that you’re not a Leafs fan here. Being a Senators fan does come with a certain level of inferiority complex that you sign up for along with your welcome package. It comes with the territory of Ottawa’s reputation as a boring town nestled directly between the two most popular hockey teams in the country. Two teams that have been around over a century that are impossible not to compare yourself to. You’re up against generational pressures. Any Sens fan over the age of 35 was likely a fan of one of those two teams first. This results in a dynamic where optimistically speaking, only 50% of hockey fans in Ottawa are Sens fans, with the other 50% being split between Leafs, Habs, or miscellaneous. This is obviously not the case in Toronto, and therefore, hockey fans here don’t really care if you’re part of their millions strong club, because you’re not about to crash a Leafs game with 10,000 of your closest buddies. They know who is on top of the heap popularity wise around here, and don’t have to deal with half their arena rooting for the road team, so you can simply do you, without the pushback. 2) Hockey fans here are sad and beaten, but not cranky. You know what makes someone cranky before a hockey game? Dealing with an hour of traffic and still having to walk 3 or 4 blocks in a blizzard before getting to your seat. Fortunately in Toronto, you never have to go outside once you go into the subway station, and that does wonders for your mood. Also, no one is more aware of how terrible the Leafs have been for the last half century than Leafs fans themselves, and will generally avoid conflict to be reminded of that fact. Leaf fans in Ottawa on the other hand, are generally cranky. You would be too if the only team you could ever watch your favorite team play against live was the Ottawa Senators, and only after the aforementioned journey to Mount Doom Canadian Tire Centre. 3) Have some context in your back pocket just in case. Sure, once in a while you’ll get chirped for your Alfie jersey by someone who doesn’t even know how to pronounce Tim Stützle. That’s ok. I find those discussions tend to end very quickly when you point out some interesting stats or facts of life for Leafs fans. My favorite go tos include:
- The last time the Leafs won the Cup or played in a final, the original Star Wars was still ten years away. - Your streak of not winning a playoff series is now old enough to drive. Even the Buffalo Sabres have won a series more recently. - If Ottawa is such a bad team, why do they have more playoff wins than any other Canadian team since the lockout? - Yeah, that Melnyk guy isn’t a great owner, but things could be *Cough* Ballard, I mean worse. - Do you think the Leafs could use a Connor Brown on their third line? - I didn’t need to take out a mortgage to go to a game in Ottawa or even Buffalo. Regular Leaf fans are banned from their own arena due to prohibitive cost. 4) Be a Raptors and Blue Jays fan. When all else fails, find common ground. No one seemed to mind that I was wearing a Sens cap with my Raptors jersey in 2019 or at Rogers Centre on opening day for the Jays. I’ve literally been yelled at more times for wearing a Baltimore Orioles cap gifted to me by my family on Toronto streets than anything Senators related. Go against the Jays or Raps at your own peril around here. Getting a little too heated? Lament Kawhi Leonard’s departure together and diffuse tension through mutual depression. 5) Find some fellow Senators fans to cheer on your team together. In COVID times, this can simply mean simply reconnecting with your fellow fans back home on game night through Zoom. When things are back to normal, Toronto is not the parched desert for Sens fans you might think it is. Many bars are friendly to their smaller Ontario brother, going so far as to put up Senators flags and host large RSU Toronto gatherings on game nights. In these scenarios, I find Leaf fans here are actually more friendly than ever, because they’re witnessing the rare unicorn that is a cadre of Sens fans taking over a Toronto bar, and they will have questions. We might not be able to take over Scotiabank Arena (the Toronto one), but we can sure take over The Craft in Liberty Village or St Louis’ on Bloor street with the best of them. You know, if they’ll actually put the game on for you. Might be tough to get a screen showing the Sens game if any combination of Leafs/Raps/Jays/TFC/Argos/NFL football is on at the same time, so have a backup plan and an NHL centre ice package in your back pocket. 6) Enjoy the fringe benefits. Buffalo has a gorgeous arena 100 minutes away, where you can actually get the best wings in the world and 4 tickets to the game for less than you’d pay for 1 ticket in Toronto. The Belleville Senators are the same distance in the other direction, and play against the Marlies several times a year for an affordable night at the rink at Exhibition Place. Toronto Dollarama, Winners, and second hand stores in places like Kensington Market are a treasure trove of clearance priced Senators merchandise. There’s also some joy to be taken in getting revenge by being the same enthusiastic road team fan that Ottawa fans deal with all the time. Since local games tend to be blacked out on NHL Centre Ice, you generally won’t have to deal with Sens games being blacked online. While everyone around you is lamenting the Leafs’ latest round one collapse, you’ll learn that few things are more satisfying than watching an entire city mourn another promising season while you point and laugh from your Sens-colored ivory tower. “At least we’re not the Leafs” is a powerful sentiment, wield it responsibly. With that said, be friendly to your boss with the luxury box season tickets. 7) Enjoy everything else that Toronto has to offer. While I will always defend Ottawa against accusations of being boring (have you ever been to Calgary the 51 weeks of the year that the Stampede isn’t going on?), it’s an easily provable fact that Toronto has way more going on. Take advantage of what your new community can offer in terms of things to do, people to meet, and sights to take in. Whatever you’re into, it’s easy to find a community of folks into that same stuff when you have a pool of millions instead of hundreds of thousands of folks living nearby. It’s okay to take a night off from being an expressive Sens fan, and there’s few places better than Toronto to do so. 8) Never forget where you came from. I haven’t. Besides, a road trip to the mecca that is the CTC is only 4 hours from here. I think that’s only slightly less time than it takes from Parliament Hill to the arena in a snowstorm anyway.
By Andrew Sztein | Sens Nation Hockey