Trying to build a little bit on my earlier post about ticket prices, I’ve been thinking about the experience of going to a Senators game and where the value lies.
The WTYKY team went to the home opener last night, and I think it was a pretty typical Sens hockey experience. Not a bad seat in the house; competitive team put on a show, making up for some nail-biting defensive lapses by making legendary Marty Brodeur look awful; great facilities; good times all around. And one of the weirdest, dumbest commutes I’ve experienced in pro sports.
I don’t want to write a post that is only complaining about how long it takes to get to the game. It’s not that long a drive. It’s not a big deal. 40 minutes on the bus is a small price to pay for being able to see your affordable, competitive team whenever you like. But I think there’s something to the idea that Ottawa games are quieter, less raucous atmospheres than what other cities have going, and it has to do with how the arena is a bit of an afterthought. I’ve been to games in a few NHL arenas. Chicago, Toronto, Montreal. And, honestly, it took me as long to commute to those arenas–usually located in those cities’ business districts–as it takes to bus out to Kanata. But what those places have in common is the arena is on the regular public transit grid, meaning that you can go out early.
An NHL arena is a pretty special place, and teams know how to create atmosphere. You feel like you’re becoming a small part of your team’s history when you walk through those doors. A lot of thought is put into making the arena the sort of place where you’ll walk around, check out the memorabilia, maybe shop for some team gear, maybe grab dinner before the game. All the while, the anticipation for the game builds. The game I went to at the ACC a couple of years ago was completely bananas, even though Toronto was out of the playoffs at that time, and they were playing a St. Louis team that was also out of the playoffs. When Toronto won in a shootout, the place exploded.
The problem with Sens games is that it’s not physically possible to hang out at the arena unless you drive. We did our part: after a quick after-work beer, we were at the bus stop, waiting for the game shuttle, at 6 for a game that started at 7:30. The bus didn’t arrive for 30 minutes, and when it did, it was too full to pick us up and drove past. We arrived at about 7:25, just in time for the anthems, with no time for get beer or food, let alone walk around and experience all of the aesthetic touches that the Sens’ marketing team have put in place.
When the game ends, you have about 30 minutes to get on the shuttle back to downtown otherwise it’s gone without you. What this translates into is a very workmanlike experience. Get there; drink as many beers as you can in two periods; get home. It’s such a shame, because yesterday was the home opener and there were all kinds of events and booths set up which we had no choice but to hurry past on the way to our seats.
I’ve talked to friends in other cities who will make fun of Ottawa fans for not going to their good team’s cheap games because of the commute, but I really think there’s something to this. Ottawa has trouble establishing the same sense of prestige and history that other franchises possess, and it’s because the arena is basically inaccessible by public transportation for anything other than just the game. This is to say nothing about being on a bus that is driving through dark farmer’s fields instead of into the center of a buzzing urban center.
I know there’s nothing that can be done about the location of the arena, but I think there has to be something for those super-fans – the ones who have been looking forward to the game for weeks and want to make an event of it – to get out there earlier.
A few other notes from the game:
- A guy on the bus home said something to the effect of Spezza’s empty netter being “such a Spezza goal.” I know following Alfredsson as captain is a tough thing for any player to do, but man does Spezz get a rough ride. He’s a creative player, which means that his mistakes, when they happen, are a lot more glaring than your typical north-south grinder / character player’s are going to be. I suppose there’s a valid point in here somewhere – you don’t want the ultra-skilled guy to be teaching your young players, since most of them won’t be able to pull off what he’s doing anyway. You want someone who teaches the fundamentals. But all the same, a lot of Ottawa fans assume there isn’t much to his game. Team Canada must feel the same way, not even offering him a try-out. Anyway: he only scored a hat trick the game before, so I guess you’re right that his next three point night, and his 8 points in 6 games, is a total fluke, bus guy.
- Why the hell is Ottawa playing Chris Phillips out there on the power play? It’s awful to see. At one point Maclean sent a powerplay out of Phillips, Gryba, Smith, Neil and Greening. Must have been sending his skilled guys a message. Obviously that PP was hot garbage.
- Re-watch Karlsson’s slick pass to Smith on the third goal. Spezza breaches the zone and waits, not passing to a wide open Smith so he can instead dish to a streaking Karlsson, who then draws four Devils to him before sending it to Smith for a back door goal. It was a thing of beauty, but what started it all? Jaromir Jagr, following Karlsson in his own end, gives up once Karlsson gets skating and peels off on a change, leaving Karlsson completely open to skate into the Devils’ zone unimpeded. I don’t envy Peter De Boer having to have that conversation with living legend Jagr, who will probably be gone at the deadline. Lazy, lazy play.
- If you’re a fan of watching penalty kills, man are you getting your money’s worth out of the Sens.
- Clearly some opening night bugs on display throughout the game. Lots of penalty announcements happening a minute after taken, and musical miscues. For all the ink spilled on Ottawa having new in-arena entertainment, it all seemed pretty standard, and off-kilter at that.. (“Don’t cheer too loud, you’ll break the Noise-o Meter!”)
- The Sens have a really family friendly atmosphere going. This is not a compliment. Let’s work some of the Nickelodeon dance music out of the routine, fellas. It can’t be very intimidating for the opponents to know they’ll be playing The Wiggles.