by Todd Anderson
Festival Park at Ottawa City Hall was flooded today by Sens Army members who gathered for a pep rally to cheer on their Ottawa Senators as they head into the Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday.
Mayor Larry O'Brien sent out an invitation to Hockey Country and its citizens came out in droves.
"We're the luckiest city in Canada right now," O'Brien said. "Not only do we live here, we have this wonderful competition for the Stanley Cup going on. This is proof positive that this is not the city that fun forgot. We're going to have fun, and it's time to be proud to be in Ottawa. I was born here and I've never seen anything like this."
A special moment during the rally came when the men responsible for bringing the Senators back to Ottawa 14 seasons ago - Senators president and COO Cyril Leeder, Randy Sexton and Bruce Firestone - addressed the crowd.
"To see this city so excited about the hockey club, we always hoped for a day like today," Leeder said afterwards. "Let's hope there's one more big celebration in our future."
Firestone and Sexton are no longer with the organization, but they are proud to see what the Senators are accomplishing this post-season.
"When you want something so bad you try and put it out of your mind. Now we're here," Firestone says. "To dream about a Stanley Cup is one thing; to win it is another. I'm unbelievably excited. This is the kind of excitement we had when the team came here. These fans knew that one day with Randy's help, and Cyril's help and Roy (Mlakar, Ottawa Senators president and CEO), and the other great management team we have, that we could put together a winning program and do this. I think the fans expected this, and I did, too."
Sexton, who accepted the position of assistant general manager with the Florida Panthers this season, says this playoff run is a dream come true for many.
"We used to dream a lot about the day we would bring the Stanley Cup down Bank Street and share it with the fans of Ottawa," Sexton says. "I have to tell you, never in our wildest dreams did we imagine a pep rally with 10 to 15,000 people before they even hit the ice. It's an incredible testament to the passion the fans have in Ottawa.
"The team is about to enter the most difficult time in their existence. The difference between winning and losing is character. Not only the character of the team, but the character of the fans and city. The team needs you. Be there strong. Go Sens Go."
Brad Taylor was one of the thousands of fans in attendance. The Greely, Ont., native will always remember the rally as a special day.
"It's my 18th birthday today and it felt like a big birthday party for me. This is awesome."
Click here to view photos from today's event.