They call the matchup between Toronto and Ottawa the Battle Of Ontario, but tonight the Leafs looks like lambs led to slaughter as the Senators victimized them 5-1.
Thousands of Leafs fans filled about a quarter of the arena, most of them in the 300 level, where they outnumbered Sens fans. It felt like a British soccer game, where visiting fans are only allowed to sit in a designated section of the stadium. The loudest cheer of the night came when the Leafs scored their lone goal, finally giving the blueclad fans a chance to rain abuse on the home team.
Everyone had told me what a fantastic atmosphere this game would have, so maybe my expectations were too high. With two goals in the first few minutes, the Senators had this game in control from the start and the fans were relatively quiet on both sides.
The Scotiabank Center is one of the few arenas that segregates the fans in the lower bowl from the rest of the levels. If you don't have a lower bowl ticket, you can't access that area. I'm not sure why they do that, as ushers do a fine job elsewhere to keep people from seat-hopping. I watched the first period from a great seat in the corner of the lower bowl behind goalie Martin Gerber, or "The Gerber Baby" as he was known in Carolina.
Three or four of Ottawa's goals were scored on 2-on-1 breakaways, and the dirtiest player in the NHL, Chris Neil, had his own 2-on-1, although the puck was nowhere around. Late in the game, he got into a tussle with Mark Bell, and Bell started throwing punches. Neil, as usual, turtled (for the less than hard-core fan, turtling is when you cover your head and let the other guy hit you to try to draw a penalty), but as soon as another Senator grabbed Bell, only then did Neil began hitting him back. Hitting an defenseless opponent is a typical Chris Neil play, can you tell I don't like him!
Now that I've been on the road for twelve days, some of the arenas are starting to look the same to me. Scotiabank Place has a few bars and restaurants (I checked out Frank Finnegan's and a BBQ place) that can be accessed from inside or outside the stadium, which makes sense, as the building is out in the suburbs with little to do within walking distance, unless you're in the market for a Toyota at the dealership next door!
During the past few games, I've done a bunch of interviews during the intermissions, which I don't mind (OK, I enjoy them, actually), but they've been cutting into my ability to cruise the facility, browse the snack stands, and mix and mingle with the fans. So during the second period after a quick stop down by the Zamboni entrance, I took the up elevator to the top of the building and worked my way back down to my seat, stopping at the suites in the 400 level, the Leafs section in 300, and the 200 level seats.
The Ottawa fans went way out of their way to make me feel welcome. My picture was on the cover of the sports section in the Ottawa Citizen, and lots of people came up to me to wish me well (and to tell me that the Leafs stink).
Had one minor crisis at the game....I got ketchup on the sleeve! of my jersey! I've no idea how it got there....perhaps a Sens fan wanted me to wear red!
I'm off to another battleground tonight, Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, site of The Battle Of Pennsylvania, as the Penguins host the Philadelphia Flyers for Game 13.