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NHL100 Classic already heating up

Rivalry between Senators, Canadiens will highlight outdoor game in Ottawa

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

OTTAWA -- It could be marketed as the Rumble on the Rideau, an outdoor game on Dec. 16 that will tie a ribbon both silky and frayed on the NHL's Centennial Celebration.

And that is only perfect.

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The 2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic will pit the Ottawa Senators against the Montreal Canadiens at Lansdowne Park on the bank of the Rideau Canal. It's clear that this one has great possibilities that are both beautiful and edgy, which is precisely what you get when two bitter rivals face off.

Adding to the fun is that at a press conference here Friday, nine months before the puck is dropped, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk already seemed to be declaring his team the underdog.

Senators games against the Canadiens at Canadian Tire Centre sound for all the world like a Montreal home game, with so many Canadiens fans making the drive down Highway 417 to attend. And you'll hear plenty of cheering in Montreal's Bell Centre when the visiting Senators score, the Sens Army happy to make the drive east.

The Senators-Canadiens rivalry has taken on a real edge in recent years, sharpened by their meetings in the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs (they won one apiece). It's when the stakes are highest in the postseason that the most venomous rivalries are formed, and two series between the Senators and Canadiens, plus the proximity of the cities, adds to that here.

Video: Sens to host Canadiens in Scotiabank NHL100 Classic

From this Saturday to next Saturday, the Atlantic Division foes will play each other three times, including home-and-home games this weekend, jockeying for position with the playoffs looming. That's a lot of seeing each other's sneering faces in a very short time.

"I think especially after this year, the way we're going back and forth in first place and second place, it's a great rivalry," Melnyk said. "I think it's a very healthy rivalry. We've met in the playoffs before and nicely describing it would be to say they were aggressive games. We're fighting for the same thing and that's the Stanley Cup. 

"In this case (in December), I think it's going to be all pride talking. Our team is not going to let them win. The odds are against us but everybody is going to be on another level for this kind of game."

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said the rivalry between his team and the Senators "is getting better and better, driven by playoff competition. You can pick some moments in a series when the intensity amplifies -- like a slash or an injury or hit or a fight or a late goal. We've had those with Ottawa. There have been happy moments for us but there have been sad moments for us as well and I think that's what makes for a great rivalry."

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Chris Campoli, an NHL Players' Association divisional player representative and an alumnus of both the Senators and Canadiens, figures the crowd at Lansdowne Park will be 50-50 in its support of the two teams.

"When I played for Ottawa, we used to say when Montreal was in town, 'We have to score early to take the crowd out of it,' " Campoli joked. "That's the way it is. Canadiens fans travel in packs and I'm sure at Lansdowne it will be no different. It will be a great atmosphere. It's not really going to be a home game for one or the other."

Ottawa, Canada's white-collar national capital, can let its hair down with the best of them when a puck or pigskin is involved.

Lansdowne Park, famous as the home of the Canadian Football League's Ottawa RedBlacks (and before that the legendary Rough Riders), will morph from a football venue - which is playing host to the 2017 Grey Cup, the CFL's championship game, on Nov. 26 -- to an open-air hockey arena seating 34,000 fans for the Rumble on the Rideau.

And the city already is in full party mode, the headquarters of festivities for Canada's 150th birthday this July 1.

The announcement of this game might have been the worst-kept secret in hockey, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stoked a nice fire of enthusiasm by turning back the pages of League history that are thick with Senators and Canadiens stars and momentous matches.

Seven NHL legends attended the news conference, along with Senators captain Erik Karlsson. Together, the Hall of Famers -- Mike Bossy, Paul Coffey, Dave Keon, Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich, Bernie Parent and Bryan Trottier -- have had their names engraved on the Stanley Cup a combined 31 times as players, 32 counting another for Trottier as an assistant coach.

Video: Former NHL players relive the moment they won the Cup

A three-minute video clip from an upcoming Stanley Cup documentary called "Names on the Cup" was screened, viewers witnessing the moist eyes of one player after another as they talked about the magic of winning hockey's grandest prize. The documentary will premiere this spring around the time of the Stanley Cup Final.
"This was the one that made sense, and I don't know that there was a close second," Commissioner Bettman said of an outdoor game in Ottawa in the final days of the NHL's Centennial Celebration.

"One hundred years of NHL hockey, 125 years of the Stanley Cup, 150 years of Canadian Confederation," Commissioner Bettman said. "Ottawa being the location where the Cup was donated initially, a matchup between two teams that played on opening night 100 years ago, doing it outdoors. … We have not only a sense but a respect of the history and tradition of our game. We understand how we got here."

The NHL has staged 22 outdoor games, and they remain a captivating event for fans who flock to enjoy the fresh-air experience.

"First, they all capture the imagination of going back to learning how to skate on a frozen pond," Commissioner Bettman said. "Then, it's watching the players' reactions and how much they enjoy it. We congregate as fans in larger numbers than we typically do, so it has a bigger feel to it. Watching the fans looking at a stadium or facility that, in their mind's eye, was always one way and we've now transformed it. And finally, the fact that everybody is there to celebrate our game."

The players will tell you that two points won or lost is the most important part of the day. But Campoli, who knows what it's like to pull on both a Senators and Canadiens jersey, has a wider view.

"You grow up often playing outside sometimes at some point in your life, maybe on a 10-by-20 pond," he said. "To have that experience magnified, and staged like we do in Stadium Series, Heritage Classic and Winter Classic games, it just magnifies everything so much more.

"To play on that stage at this level of competition, well, I've never heard a negative thing about them. It's a great experience."

How fitting, then, to have the Senators and Canadiens come full circle in December in the NHL's landmark year, a rivalry heating up by the game, enough to perhaps make the blood boil when the teams step on the ice, outdoors this time, and slap a puck almost like they did a century ago when the newborn League took its first steps.

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