Having never actually been to New York City, this felt like a no brainer. Travel plans and the search for tickets began rather frantically with only a couple days until the deciding Game 7. Finding someone willing to travel to NYC on short notice proved to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated but in the end I was able to recruit my brother, who is oddly enough a San Jose Sharks fan, to make the trip down for the game.
At around 8:00 PM, we hopped aboard an uncomfortably crowded Greyhound bus bound for the Big Apple.
Initial excitement faded pretty quickly but I was able to maintain sanity by live tweeting my adventure and answering questions from my Twitter followers. I answered questions about the Senators, about the meaning of life and about the finer points of international bus travel.
In the wee hours of the night, around 1:00 AM, and shortly after we crossed the boarder into the United States, it dawned on me...I should probably get some sleep. Easier said than done on the bus. From my experience, the Greyhound is either punishingly hot or bone-numbingly cold- this trip was the latter. My window seat had predictably been seated next to a window that was stuck open a crack and the once comfortable breeze had transformed into a cold arctic chill overnight. Clinging to my Ottawa Senators windbreaker for warmth, I slept for what was a total of 2 hours on the entire trip.
12 hours after we had departed from the Ottawa bus terminal, and following thrilling stops in Montreal and Albany, I began to see the familiar skyline of New York City. Running on nothing but adrenaline and excitement of the game scheduled for later that night, we struggled through some of the touristy type stuff you feel obligated to do in New York City. I walked around confidently in Times Square, sporting a black Ottawa Senators jacket that didn't seem to bother any of these busy New Yorkers. In a city that big, it's pretty easy for the NHL team to play second fiddle and that's exactly how it felt on Thursday morning.
I ran into one twenty something in a Rangers hat. He looked at me with a confrontational yet admiring glance as we waited to cross the street. It was almost as if he couldn't believe he had run into another hockey fan let alone a fan of the team his Rangers would play later that night.
Fast forward ahead to 4:30 PM on the evening of Game 7. After a few underpriced, awful tasting American beers at our overpriced, awful looking downtown hotel, we made the walk to iconic Madison Square Garden. A gloomy rain fell on the city that afternoon and I convinced myself this was a bad omen for the city of New York.
I stood somewhat confidently in my heritage Ottawa Senators jersey but I could already feel the heat from the Ranger fans around me. Unlike the morning in Times Square, there was a definite buzz in the air now. Not a friendly jersey in sight and Broadway Blue as far as the eye could see. "Are you f***ing kidding me? A Senators fan?!" was the first comment. "I wouldn't make too much noise tonight if I was you." another guy said smugly. "Hope you have good health coverage wearing that shirt in here!" another Rangers fan scoffed. Even the guy working the ticket window threatened to hold our tickets unless I took the jersey off. Playful jabs but just threatening enough to let me know they meant business.
After dinner and a few pregame drinks at Harrington's, a local sports bar recommended by none other than Bruce Garrioch, we made our way back to MSG in plenty of time for warm up.
In the midst of our stroll towards MSG, I saw the familiar face of former Sens head coach John Paddock. He spotted my Sens jersey and stopped to chat. "I can't believe you're wearing a jersey," he muttered, "Be careful in there tonight. They're crazy." Up until this point I was only mildly concerned about the welcome I'd receive as a fan of the visiting team but when a former NHL head coach tells you to be careful, you start to worry.
We took our seats in the 100 level just 15 rows from the ice. Had there been a camera on us at the time, it definitely would have caught my "deer in the headlights" look. I've seen MSG on TV, I've heard about the legendary events that have been held in that building over the years, and here I was, about to watch the Ottawa Senators biggest game of the season under the bright lights of Broadway. For a diehard Sens supporter and just an avid sports fan in general, it really doesn't get much better than that.
We took in the warm up from the front row in the Sens end and were finally joined by some other Ottawa supporters. Plenty of fans had made the trip down but they had us effectively scattered throughout the building. From puck drop, I don't think I ever actually saw another Ottawa Senators fan.
The fans seated around me, were for the most part, surprisingly friendly. Their initial intimidation tactics became more friendly as the game moved along. I can honestly say that ever single Rangers fan I talked to on the trip, legitimately respected the Ottawa Senators. In that fan base, there was definitely a sense of “anyone but Ottawa” leading up to the first round.
I'll spare you the recap of the Rangers goals but when Daniel Alfredsson scored his power play goal to cut the lead to 2-1, I stood and let out a holler that was far louder than I anticipated and almost seemed to echo through MSG. The fans around me, who had been friendly for the most part, suddenly turned into those angry New Yorkers I had heard about. "Sit down a**hole!" "Alright that's enough A**hole, sit the f*** down."
You know, friendly stuff like that.
In the second intermission, I went to the concourse to grab one (ok fine it was three) last beer(s) and ran into Team President Cyril Leeder. He thanked me for making the trip down and said, "Hopefully we can send you home happy." It was pretty incredible that in that moment, me a lowly Senators blogger half in the bag and he, the sharply dressed president of an NHL franchise- were both just fans. Pretty cool moment.
You all know how the final period went. The Sens dominated the play but couldn't find a way to tie the game. A Rangers fan seated to my right explained how he hadn’t seen a team dominate the Rangers like that all year. A younger fan behind us piped up and said, “That’s Rangers hockey baby!”. The gentleman to my right quickly shot back, “Are you kidding me?! They’re skating circles around us right now!”
There was a certain comfort in knowing our 8th seeded Senators were causing the Rangers and their fans that much grief.
The final buzzer sounded. The Rangers were moving on. The Senators season was over and if you listened to the speculation leading up to the game, Daniel Alfredsson's career may have come to an end as well. While the end result was not what I hoped for, it's an experience that I'll remember for the rest of my life. And in the event Alfie does not return next season, I'll be able to say I saw his last goal and last game in the National Hockey League.
Worth the price of admission, if you ask me.
On Sunday, we made the trip to Philadelphia to catch the Flyers overtime win in Game 1 of their series with the Devils. When it was all said and done, I had seen two baseball games at Citizens Bank Park, a Round 2 overtime win at Wells Fargo and a series clinching win at Madison Square Garden and I can honestly say at no point did any of those buildings come close to the noise level after Turris scored the OT winner in Game 4.
The trip gave me a chance to experience playoff hockey in the middle of two of the most hockey mad markets the United States has to offer and they both fell short of the atmosphere at Scotiabank Place this season.
Is it September yet?
- Interesting bit of Sens news courtesy of Joy Lindsay this morning as apparently Binghamton Senators Head Coach Kurt Kleinendorst has let it be known he will not be returning to the organization next season. Kleinendorst has done an excellent job with the Sens AHL affiliate in Bingo and his loss is a significant one for the organization.