Satellite Hot Takes – The Very First Ottawa Senators Game

Luke Peristy and I had a conversation about something that happened over 23 years ago.

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The Ottawa Civic Centre: When you DON’T gotta hear both sides.

LUKE: Have you heard the one about how the Sens’ success is unsustainable?

CHET: Remind me how that one goes.

LUKE: It’s a classic rock hit by PDO Speedwagon. I won’t bore you with the details, but I think if you want to see real unsustainable success, you’ve got to go all the way back to the Sens’ first game.

CHET: Oh, this is a deep cut. This is like that Japanese PDO Speedwagon bootleg you keep telling me to listen to. I promise I’ll get to it once I get through all these GVT Mule live sets. But sure, let’s watch this 1992 broadcast introducing the first ever Ottawa Senators game.

It starts with an ad for a funeral home. Nothing to worry about, soon-to-be Senators fans.

LUKE: “Local ownership since 1925”. Obviously this commercial is from before Big Funeral bought up all the small boutique places and started outsourcing casket manufacturing to developing countries like Brazil and China to increase profits.

Then suddenly there’s that low synth note and the dramatic flair of electronic trumpets that tells us this is indeed a presentation of CBC Sports. Can you feel the excitement?

CHET: That is pretty good CG for a public broadcaster in 1992. Especially since it follows a CBC Ottawa affiliate promo where somebody said, “We can’t afford this new-fangled computer wizardry, we’ll dazzle people the old-fashioned way – with a magician.” More proof that progress is robbing us of our humanity.

So we get a CBC flyover of Parliament Hill that shows us that: a) the Ottawa skyline hasn’t changed that much in 25 years; b) CBC is not afraid to jazz up a flyover with fake helicopter noise; and c) nobody realized Ron MacLean was going to have to shout over a fake helicopter to introduce the Ottawa Senators for the first time. But from humble origins come great things.

LUKE: You think that’s fake helicopter noise? I’d just assumed that we didn’t know how to mute audio back in 1992.

CHET: It sounds like a kazoo.

LUKE: Let’s talk about what’s really important here though: does anyone do over-the-top sports programming introductions like Ron MacLean? It’s like he’s trying to be the Canadian James Joyce. “Long before the invention of the television, a country and its pastime came together here in a place that will again be the setting for a historic mix of society and sport.” That’s an awfully lofty turn of phrase when you’re introducing a rag-tag group of replacement-level players who are going to lose a great many games in front of a mostly drunk Civic Centre crowd.

CHET: It’s a little purple. They interrupt him with the Peace Tower bells, like he’s being played off on some kind of Victorian Gong Show.

LUKE: But I guess this is more evidence that Ron’s a natural choice for Hometown Hockey. Ron MacLean can infuse anything with a level of romantic Canadiana rarely seen outside of Gordon Lightfoot.

CHET: I’m pretty sure I remember a late 90s Coach’s Corner segment during Sens-Leafs game where Ron said, “Sundin! You better take care, if we find you’ve been creepin’ round Denny Lambert!” And Don Cherry just stared at him for like a minute.

So they start showing all the black-and-white pictures of the old Ottawa teams, and newspapers with headlines like “OTTAWAS WIN THE STANLEY CUP” (this is back when they were the Arnprior Ottawas, before they figured out a location for a downtown rink), and then a bunch of old hand-cranked footage that looks like roller derby in a cave, or that time Matt Kassian was sent out on the power play.

LUKE: This old black-and-white hockey footage is great, but it leaves out the best part of Olde Tyme Hockey: the names! Check out “Rat” Westwick, the original Brendan Gallagher. Opposing players slashed this guy’s ankles so hard that he needed to get his leg amputated below the knee! Cyclone Taylor once punched a lacrosse referee in the face, made more money than the Prime Minister playing for a hockey team in Renfrew, and still had enough time to refuse to allow a boat full of immigrants to land in Vancouver in 1914.They do not make them like they used to. God only knows what sort of shenanigans Battleship Leduc got up to in his spare time.

CHET: Now CBC shows us what life in Ottawa was like without an NHL team. It’s an old guy on the canal in a Habs jersey! Thank God we don’t see that anymore. Oh wait, we do! That old guy is probably still around, too. He’s 104, and right now he’s wearing a Plekanec jersey at Bar Le Whip, yelling about how Erik Karlsson never should have won a Norris and drinking Calvados he brought himself. They can’t throw him out because his great-granddaughter works there and is the only one who knows how to fix the video poker terminal.

Finally our shaky CBC helicopter takes us over the old Lansdowne Park and shows us the FORMER largest parking lot in eastern Ontario. And now it’s just another Whole Foods. More proof that progress is robbing us of our humanity.

LUKE: I can never decide if putting the Civic Centre underneath a set of football bleachers was an inspired space saving move, or the laziest piece of engineering/architecture I’ve ever seen. I get the feeling someone said, “Screw it, let’s just put all the sports in the same place” when they were designing it. This strategy was much less successful when they were designing the now-legendary Ottawa Zoo.

CHET: You mean Parliament? What a mix of society and sport! *Peace Tower bells play me off*

LUKE: Ok, then a solemn Old White Man intones that the NHL is granting conditional franchises to the applicants representing the City of Ottawa . . . and then he’s cut off by Ron MacLean. Whatever happened to that other applicant? Did they ever amount to anything?

CHET: I think Ron is just tired of that guy dragging out the big announcement with all those dramatic little pauses and sly grins. Get to it, man; it’s an expansion team, not a Showcase Showdown.

LUKE: Everything I’ve ever read about the expansion bid for the Senators makes me think it basically consisted of Bruce Firestone getting drunk with his buddies and saying, “I could totally start a hockey teammm . . . WWATCH ME!” I once heard that the Senators sent their official bid from Ottawa to New York City in a limousine because they thought it would impress the NHL brass more than if they just sent it via FedEx like normal people. Their official presentation to the NHL in 1990 had a marching band in it, for God’s sake. This franchise comes by its penchant for lame gestures honestly.

CHET: It’s hard to believe the NHL ever granted an expansion franchise to a team whose initial plan was “barely convert a 10,000 seat junior hockey arena”. This is a league that’s probably going to squeeze $500M out of Quebec City at some point, and those guys don’t even have electricity. But in 1992 you’ve got the Ottawa Senators playing actual games in a one-sided rink that they’ve decorated with balloons and streamers. More proof that progress is robbing us of our humanity.

LUKE: “It’s a one-sided rink really, but there’ll be some one-sided games . . .” You know what, I’m not even going to try to top that. I gotta let Ron cook on this one.

CHET: So then we actually see Ron, and he looks exactly like Alan Partridge, and then refers to people showing up in togas by saying “the sheets have hit the fans,” which is pretty much exactly what Alan Partridge would say in this situation. Today this man may be Canada’s most respected sports broadcaster. Nice Ron Burgundy jacket, by the way.

LUKE: “You can see the fog in the background from the dry ice for a special ceremony,” he says, as if he’s reporting live from a Bon Jovi concert. What pattern would you say Ron’s tie is? I’m going with “Paisley Having an Acid Flashback”.

CHET: I’m going with “Couch Grandma Won’t Let You Sit On”.

One guy who doesn’t look any younger in this clip is Bob Cole. I’m beginning to think he has that version of Benjamin Button disease where you’re born old and you just stay like that. He sounds exactly the same, though. I think he just mistook Laurie Boschman for Darcy Tucker, who isn’t even in the league yet.

LUKE: It’s easy to think of Bob Cole as The Old Guy in the Booth, but Dick Irvin was the original! He’s a whole year older than Bob Cole, so you know he EARNED that title. And peep Cole’s fledgling skullet game.

CHET: His combover looks like roof of the Skydome.

LUKE: He’s only a few months away from going Full Iafrate.

CHET: Finally burgeoning Sens fans can get excited as CBC puts up two smoldering pictures of their early stars, Sylvain Turgeon and Peter Sidorkiewicz. Both will be out of the league in a couple years, but here they look tough and moody, like two guys who aren’t afraid to start their own C++ club.

LUKE: Harry Neale’s talking about Turgeon’s 222 career goals and referring to him as the only bonafide sniper on the team, but if Sens Twitter had been around in 1992 you know Turgeon would be reviled as “not the type of player you want to build around”.

CHET: Sens Twitter would already be making jokes about how they should bring the magician back.

LUKE: Then they’d tell you the magician is a perfect metaphor for this season so far: all smoke and mirrors. Just like a PDO Speedwagon show.

Satellite Hot Takes – Erik Karlsson’s Draft Day

Tim Murray, on the happiest day of his life.

Tim Murray, on the happiest day of his life.

Luke Peristy and I had a conversation about something that happened over seven years ago.

CHET: I don’t want to talk about the Senators’ defense today.

LUKE: We’re Sens fans. We have to. It’s our duty.

CHET: No, you’re thinking of writing out line combinations until your nose gradually starts bleeding. You look for something to wipe it up but all you have is a Jason Spezza shirsey. Somewhere a dog will not stop barking. That’s being a Sens fan.

Let’s talk about a happier moment. Specifically, this video.

CHET: This clip starts with Gord Miller saying, “You’ve still gotta figure out Wade Redden.” Tell us something we don’t know, Gord.

LUKE: The first thing I notice about this video is that somebody filmed it by pointing their Nokia flip phone at their television and pressing record.

CHET: The shaky cellphone quality is the best part. Like it’s being filmed from a drone, hovering above the front line of history as it happens. You can’t worry about copyright law in those situations. At 0:39 the phone starts buzzing and whoever owns it says, “I can’t take this call, I’m bootlegging TSN.” I respect that.

LUKE: The second thing I notice is Eugene Melnyk approaching the stage with Daniel Alfredsson as thousands of Sens fans cheer. Is this what Ottawa winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 would have looked like?

CHET: They’re cheering for Melnyk, right? The 45-second ovation Melnyk gets here probably hasn’t been matched, cumulatively, in the seven years since this happened.

LUKE: I’d like to think that we as a fan base have reached a kind of uneasy peace with the Euge at this point. He seems genuinely happy to be alive and to be able to spend time with his daughters. Could Eugene Melnyk’s realization that there are more important things in life than hockey set a good example for the rest of us? I’ll get back to you on that just as soon as I’m finished typing out these line combinations.

Also, I would like to point out the guy in the Leafs jersey 24 seconds in. THERE’S ALWAYS ONE! “Wow, I can’t believe I was here to watch the Leafs draft Luke Schenn!” he’s probably thinking. “I’m never going to forget this moment. Luke Schenn’s easily the best defenseman in this draft, and now the Leafs have him. What a day!”

CHET: “This is a big day. Top 5 defenseman Luke Schenn, AND Mom’s making tuna-potato chip casserole later. If only selfies had been invented yet.”

Shaved-head Daniel Alfredsson was a good time, wasn’t it? He looks like Megamind.

LUKE: Alfie’s hairstyle is clearly foreshadowing the LEGENDARY moment when he would win the Mark Messier Leadership Award For Being Most Like Mark Messier a few years later.

CHET: Shaved heads were the style at the time. It wasn’t until Mats Sundin retired that the Swedish guys felt safe growing their hair back. Before that he was like, “if I’m going bald, so are you, spädbarn.” And they had to do it. He was the national captain.

LUKE: How about Tim Murray in this clip? He’s positively chatty! “We’ve had a great time in Ottawa,” he says, correctly feeling the temperature of the room. In terms of All Time Great Draft Traditions, where does thanking the city that’s hosting the draft rank? I’d say below booing Bettman, but above Philly fans booing whatever disappointment they end up drafting in the 1st round. Is the booing the only reason to attend a draft in person?

CHET: This is the most Tim Murray has ever said at a podium. He hasn’t completely turned heel yet. No D&G frames, strong Shawville accent. He says the word “fans” like someone who’s been thrown out of a Legion more than once.

LUKE: If you’re ever in Shawville, ask a local to tell you about The Tim Murray Pancake Tuesday Legion Dinner Incident. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Okay, so Daniel Alfredsson announces the pick of Erik Karlsson from Frolunda, and Pierre McGuire immediately launches into a monologue in which he describes Yung Karl as “the Swedish version of Brian Rafalski”. Knowing what we know now, is this a bit like describing Bjork as the Icelandic Yoko Ono? Sure they’re both weirdo avant-garde artists, but only one of them can sell out the big arenas.

CHET: The arena isn’t even sold out! They show Alfredsson and then a bunch of empty seats. STRONG troll game. This was when TSN had rights to other teams.

But yeah, Swedish Brian Rafalski. Keeps trying to turn Scott Stevens on to Cardigans deep cuts. Stevens will have none of it.

Then we see him for the first time – it’s Erik Karlsson.

LUKE: Huge shoutout to the Sens’ scouting for this pick.

CHET: The silence after this pick is deafening. These people wanted Joe Colborne.

LUKE: But look at this kid. He’s 18 going on 10 with hair that looks like he was trying to have a mullet but started to grow it out three weeks too late.

CHET: Check out Jos. A. Banksson in a charcoal suit. This was the last time Karlsson was seen wearing plain neutrals. It’s not that success has changed him; he’s wishing desperately he was in a crocodile-print three-piece here, but doesn’t want a primadonna rep on day one. He knows the Sun is watching and as far as they’re concerned Sweden is practically Russia.

LUKE: Hey, you can go in on EK’s decidedly un-zesty wardrobe choices if you want, but if there’s one thing last year’s Ottawa Senators taught me, it’s that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. I don’t see the point of starting the day in a purple velour dinner jacket made from one of Hugh Hefner’s couches when you’re going to be spending the evening in your brand new Ottawa Senators jersey.

CHET: Also, shoutout to TSN’s “Worth Their Weight In Goal” tag line as they shade Karlsson for being the draft’s lightest player. That might be the lamest TSN pun ever, and I say that as someone who lived through “Comme ci, Konopka.”

LUKE: The Sens took one look at this undersized boy and said, “On this rock we shall build our defense.” Or at least they said, “This kid will be the next Brian Rafalski. Meh, we’ll take it.” Also let’s give it up for this head shot of EK.

CHET: That headshot could literally be anyone. It looks like bad CGI. It looks like you took one of the generic heads from NHL ’08 Create-a-Player mode and then put a blurry picture of it on the side of a milk carton. Have you seen this completely featureless boy? He was last seen being an expressionless canvas onto which you can project your wildest expectations. If found please call his parents, Henrik and Ilsa Rafalskiberg.

LUKE: Karlsson was the first part of a rebuild we didn’t even know was happening yet. Another way he was ahead of his time.

CHET: Reminder that the Sens traded up from 18 to 15 to get this pick. The Predators took goalie Chet Pickard at 18, also referred to in the context of this article as “the second worst Chet ever”. But the Sens have the Karlsson jersey ready, so you know he was their guy all along. It’s neat how with the exception of Tim Murray, who got a promotion, the Senators front office is still pretty much all the guys on this stage. One first-round playoff win since, by the way.

“They’re gonna need some patience with this guy,” McGuire says. Don Brennan watches from the press box like, “Nah, B.”

What’s crazy is how casual Karlsson is with Alfredsson, like, “Oh yeah, Frolunda, me too. Those showers in the locker room though, am I right?” Just not grasping the symbolism at all, even after Alfredsson hands him the hat while saying, “So also, you live with me.” Then Karlsson sidles up to Melnyk and does this huge, OVER THE TOP, arm out move, slapping him on the back. That is like a ’91 Jordan dunk, that move. That is a man who has hugged a billionaire before.

LUKE: Hugging a billionaire is one thing, but then he goes for the arm around on Tim Freaking Murray?! This guy’s confidence is out of control. He just got drafted, doesn’t even have a contract yet, but he’s still putting the moves on his bosses like they’re a couple of girls he invited over for Netflix and Sauna. Let’s see Kimmo Timonen do THAT!

CHET: “He’s good, don’t worry! He’s very good!” This is like the shortest player assessment from Pierre McGuire ever, like he’s wishing he knew who Erik Karlsson’s billet family in Gothenburg was. “The Rafalskibergs, good people. Ilsa pickles herring like you wouldn’t believe. Henrik’s slowed down a bit since diabetes took his foot.”

LUKE: For my money, the best scouting report Pierre could have given was, “Erik Karlsson won a car from his dad in a game of poker at the age of 12.” You don’t need to know how good he is at moving the puck once you find out he was fleecing his old man at cards before he was even a teenager.

CHET: Then James Duthie asks, “Can you play in the NHL?” Setting up Karlsson’s first “obviously” on a goddamned tee. But he’s only 18 so it’s understandable if he can’t pick up every play right away.

Cute kid, though. His skull is, what, 75% bigger now?

LUKE: It’s incredibly weird listening to this guy talk about putting on some muscle when seven years later, his own coach says he doesn’t even need to go to the gym, but does it anyway because he’s a good leader and also happens to have arms as thick as his neck.

Then he’s asked which player he’s most like and his answer is Niklas Kronwall, who is the hardest Swede outside of a maximum security prison. James Duthie does a great job of dealing with Karlsson’s utter lack of chill, saying, “That’s a darn good answer,” instead of saying what I would say, which is “LOL, K, Niklas Kronwall could eat you, tiny man.” I can’t get over this kid.

CHET: “I get that you don’t want to say Lidstrom, because that’s blasphemy for your small, no-daylight race, but comparing yourself to Kronwall is like trying to fight the biggest guy on your first day in. You do you, kid.”

Then Bryan Murray shows up to clarify that a) future senior hockey advisor Daniel Alfredsson had nothing to do with this pick, and b) in today’s NHL, you need skill on the blue line. Both GREAT looks for Bryan in 2015.

LUKE: Look at that wise hockey executive espousing the importance of skill on the blue line. Whatever happened to him? I wish he could run my hockey team.

CHET: “We don’t need a big guy,” Murray says. “We need somebody good.” This is like an alternate universe where Jared Cowen was never born.

LUKE: You want to talk alternate universe? James Duthie just said, “Darren Dreger just reported that you extended Chris Kelly for four years.” The 2008 Ottawa Senators: crafting for skill and signing the Corsi Gawds long term. What happened to this team? How did they ever lose?

Wait, Duthie just asked, “Will Jason Spezza be a member of the Ottawa Senators on July 1st?” That’s totally from this universe. I recognize that.

CHET: Bryan Murray with one of the all-time #actuallys here – “his no-trade doesn’t kick in until next year, James.” In other words, we’ll trade him whenever we damn well please – this year, 2014… we’re really going to explore the space with Jason Spezza’s job security. Maybe we’ll make him the captain and THEN trade him, just to really screw with the guy. We have Erik Karlsson! We can do anything we want now.