By Mark Brownlee
OTTAWA — Hundreds of Canadian New Yorkers are expected to watch the last Canadian hockey team standing Thursday, just blocks away from the site of game seven between the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers.
Ex-pats from across the city of more than eight million people have been gathering to watch the series, which is tied 3-3 and will be decided Thursday, for the past few weeks.
Many of them are Senators fans.
“Ottawa Senators fans, I guess because we’re ex-pats, we just find each other and we play the name game and the next thing you know you’ve become best friends with a stranger who’s standing next to you,” said Jonathan Ages, a 32-year-old from Ottawa who has been living in New York for about a decade. He still cheers for the Senators.
Many fans plan to watch the game at Van Diemens, a bar on Third Avenue in Manhattan where Senators supporters can gather to eat Canadian foods such as poutine and drink on-tap beer like Molson Ice and Labatt Blue.
“You have people of all ages, all backgrounds glued to these huge television screens,” said Megan Chuchmach, a 27-year-old Senators fan who lives in New York. “In New York, it’s much different than Canada. Most of the sports bars you go into hockey isn’t getting the spotlight — and (at) Van Diemens it is.”
The hundreds of patrons who often gather to watch are usually so into the game, she said, that there isn’t a whole lot of talking during the game’s big moments.
Van Diemens is one of two bars where both diehard Senators fans and those who are simply cheering for the last Canadian team will often gather to watch hockey.
The organization that has brought a lot of the ex-pats together, the Canadian Association of New York, is also showing the game at a bar called Windfall on W 39th Street. Both are within walking distance of the Rangers home arena, Madison Square Garden.
The association isn’t expecting turnouts for this year’s games to be as high as in past years when teams from Montreal and Vancouver have gone deeper into the playoffs, said Vick Arora, one of the event’s organizers.
Support for the Rangers tends to take a back seat to other sports teams in the city, said Chuchmach, such as baseball’s Yankees or the football Giants.
But those two bars tend to draw in Rangers fans because they play the games with the sound on, she said.
The crowds have been pretty evenly divided between those cheering for the hometown team and those who want the Senators to win.
There is still a smaller group of diehard Rangers fans, though.
“You get into the underbelly of the Rangers, some of the fans are fanatics,” said Karim Demirdache, a 43-year-old Senators fan who has lived in New York since 1994.
“There’s a lot of bars around the Garden I would never go in at playoff time wearing a Senators jersey. You’d just get booed.”
Demirdache said that’s one of the reasons why he likes to watch the games at Van Diemens.
Ages said he went to game five on Saturday at the Garden, where he witnessed three sections of Rangers fans booing a row of people wearing Senators logos.
The Senators will have some other supporters in the area — those who usually cheer for the crosstown New York Islanders.
“Islanders’ fans favourite teams are the Islanders and anyone playing the Rangers,” wrote Matthew Calamia, the author of Rangers Internet fan page Blueshirt Blog, in an email.