(Editor's Note: During the summer of 2012, the Senators website will welcome a number of guest columnists, who will write articles on items of interest to them and to Senators fans. The article below comes to us from Sens Chirp, a local blogger. Visit www.ottawasenators.com and follow @NHL_Sens for future guest columns. Visit SensChirp’s website at www.senschirp.ca and follow him on twitter at @SensChirp).
Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Nearly three minutes into the first overtime session in Game 4 of the first-round series between the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers.
Sens forward Jim O'Brien crosses the opposition blue line with speed. With the gap closing between he and the two Rangers defencemen, O'Brien leaves a perfectly placed drop pass for his fast approaching linemate. Kyle Turris, a right-handed shot, corrals the puck and closes in on the New York net. In the blink of an eye, and before the 20,340 anxious fans in attendance can react, the puck is off his stick.
Anton Stralman drops to a knee to block the shot but it's far too late.
The pin-point accurate shot speeds past the glove of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and hits the back of the net. What followed was an eruption unlike anything Scotiabank Place has ever seen.
Just one of the many highlights in an incredible season for fans of the Ottawa Senators.
While the 2011-12 season, Ottawa's 20th in the National Hockey League, ended in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss against the heavily-favoured Rangers, it will certainly go down as one most entertaining and memorable seasons in the history of this proud franchise.
You see, being a Sens fan isn't always easy. Sandwiched geographically between two of the league's most historic franchises and predictably insufferable fan bases, the organization and its loyal supporters are forced to cope with the challenges that come with living in such close proximity to their biggest rivals in Toronto and Montreal.
If you work in an office building in the nation's capital, you've undoubtedly encountered a member of Leafs Nation and had to politely remind them that the Leafs have yet to play a playoff game in high-definition television. If you've attended a Sens/Habs game at SBP, you've likely had to shout to be heard over the modified soccer chant Canadiens fans call an anthem. It's just the reality of cheering for the Ottawa Senators.
But in a season where the Leafs missed the playoffs again and the Habs floundered at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Senators and their fans put themselves on the map in a big way.
With dramatic first-half wins over Columbus and Florida and a milestone night against Calgary when captain Daniel Alfredsson scored the 400th goal of his career, excitement in the city was building.
In January, the city was granted a unique opportunity to host the NHL All-Star Game and show the rest of the league just how big hockey is in this market. The fans took full advantage of that opportunity.
Leading up to all-star weekend, there was the impressive "get out and vote" campaign, spearheaded by the organization, local businesses and media that was designed to ensure the Senators were well represented at the league's mid-season showcase. Under the rallying cry of "Our Game, Our Town, Our Team," the fan base stepped up in support of their local heroes. Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson were all voted on to the roster in an incredible display of support that did not go unnoticed by the players.
With four Senators in the game and Colin Greening later added to the Young Stars roster, the mid-season classic took on added significance for local hockey fans. The game and the festivities surrounding it were second to none.
A passionate group of fans made their way to the All-Star Fantasy Draft at the Hilton Lac Leamy to "welcome" Leafs star Joffrey Lupul to town. Fans packed SBP two nights later to take in the skills competition and it was all capped off with what quickly became unofficial Alfie Day in Ottawa. The captain scored twice in the all-star game and was met with an incredible outpouring of respect and admiration from the hometown crowd.
Throughout all-star weekend, Sens fans earned league-wide respect for their love of the game and passionate support of the Senators. An undeniable swagger was developing among the fan base and the momentum carried over during the stretch run.
Electric crowds packed SBP on a nightly basis late in the season as the upstart Senators squad continued their unlikely push towards the playoffs. On Feb. 9, career Senator Chris Phillips played his 1,000th game in an Ottawa uniform and marked the occasion by scoring his first two goals of the season. On March 24, with Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in town and the playoffs within their reach, the Sens electrified another sellout crowd, scoring a convincing 8-4 win over the powerhouse Penguins.
With the regular season winding down and the club destined for the playoffs, Sens fans continued to find new ways to support their team. The ‘Alfie’ countdown, which saw fans count down from 10 starting at 11:11 of each period and erupt into a spontaneous ‘Alfie’ chant, grabbed league-wide attention.
Fans in New York and Washington would try to replicate the chant later in the playoffs.
The crowds that filled Scotiabank Place during playoff time were among the loudest anywhere in the league. Speaking from personal experience, after having had a chance to watch a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden and a Game 1 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, I can tell you that nothing came close to the atmosphere at SBP in April.
And while the team came up just short in their opening-round series against the Rangers, it was a ride that fans in this city won’t soon forget.
Any belief that the energy displayed by Sens Army would wane over the off season was quickly squashed when hockey-starved fans packed the Bell Sensplex to watch the development camp scrimmage in late June. With a team packed with young stars and one of the league's deepest prospect pools, fans certainly will have plenty to cheer about down the road.
No one has ever questioned the passion of Ottawa's hockey fans. People in this city love their Senators and have supported this team through thick and thin over the past 20 years. But this year, you could sense a transformation. It was almost as if a fan base was growing up before our very eyes. You could feel a shift in the way fans back this hockey team and see an undeniable sense of pride in the product on the ice.
The Sens Army is louder and prouder than ever and as this past season showed; its best days are still to come.
- end -