As a sport fanatic, a night spent at the NHL was a perfectly natural addition to my itinerary on my current trip to Canada. I will admit that prior to arriving at Canadian Tire Stadium last night I knew next to nothing about ice hockey. While my knowledge now is minimal at best, I experienced an entirely new phenomenon. Watching sport through a novice’s eyes, with no background knowledge or insight acquired over years of viewing, reading and listening.
From the moment we stepped into the stadium and saw the illuminated field we knew it was going to be a special night. The atmosphere was amazing and unlike anything I had experienced before. The entire evening was centred around providing as much entertainment as possible. Every lull in proceedings was filled with music, competitions and even the iconic kissing cam. I have to admire the concentration levels of the players given music would blast for a few seconds and then stop just as play recommenced.
The other aspect impossible to escape throughout the evening was advertising. Every aspect of the game, whether it be a replay or a challenge to encourage the crowd to make noise, was sponsored. I lost count of how many brands were mentioned throughout the night and was heartened by what it signified – these companies were confident in reaching their audience through live sport. It really was an impressive crowd for a Thursday night after a freezing day punctuated with snow.
The game play itself was exciting and I was easily swept up in it. It wasn’t long however before I sensed how the game would end and sadly our Ottawa Senators did indeed go down to the St Louis Blues. St Louis had a level of aggression Ottawa simply couldn’t match. The keys to their success were momentum and a flow to their play that seeemed to stem from solid combinations of players with an understanding of how to support each other.
One of the funniest spectacles was watching the substitutions take place, with players clambering over the sideline barrier to get onto the field as others were quickly ushered back off the field. With so many players in a constant rotation it would be difficult to keep track of who was on and who was off – it mattered little to me however as I didn’t know a single player!
Despite no scoring in the first period there was no lack of entertainment. One of the bizarre aspects of the game was the response to any fighting that broke out. With players getting slammed into walls for most of the night it wasn’t surprising that tempers were flaring. We watched in awe as players knocked off the helmets of opponents and even threw punches. The strangest part though, was watching nobody intervene. It was allowed to play out and then the players were given only a short time penalty of a couple of minutes as a result.
Sadly St Louis only needed to enjoy a short period of productivity to seal victory. Three fast goals dashed Ottawa’s hopes and despite scoring one goal back, they weren’t able to come back. Their attack lacked shape and they struggled to find a way through the defense. Their goalie had a very tough night at the office and was valiant under the circumstances. The most confusing play of the night however, came in the last few minutes, when Ottawa pulled their goalie off and St Louis scored, with the goal left empty.
Research later revealed to me that when a team is within two goals of another, in the closing stages of a game they can pull the goalie in order to play an additonal attacking player in an attempt to score. It clearly backfired. The crowd were very unimpressed and began to leave, shuffling into the aisles and beginning their journeys home. In surroundings so unfamiliar it was strange to see the ‘leaving early’ phenomenon play out, just as it does at home.
Despite the result, it was undoubtedly a fantastic way to spend an evening in Ottawa. Not only do you escape the cold, but you get an evening packed with entertainment of every kind. They undoubtedly have a lot of room for improvement but the Senators really did steal my heart. I do love an underdog and ice hockey isn’t bad either.