Minor hockey players love to talk about their favourite “celly,” or goal celebration move.
It might involve a Theo Fleury body slide, a double knee swoop, a full arm curl or a body launch into the glass.
But what does a franchise do for an important “celly” of a moment in time?
As the Ottawa Senators approached the 2011-12 NHL season, they had a decision to make.
When would they celebrate the 20th anniversary of the club’s return to the NHL?
There were no shortage of options. The 20th birth date of Ottawa’s successful bid at the Florida board of governors’ meetings had long since passed, given that it was on Dec. 6, 1990. But from there, a series of critical dates followed — the second franchise fee payment of $22.5 million in June of 1991, the Aug. 18, 1991, Ontario Municipal Board approval of the Kanata arena proposal, the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Palladium (two names ago) in late June of 1992.
Finally came the on-ice moment to celebrate, as all the bureaucratic red tape and complicated financing gave way to flesh and blood hockey: Game 1 of the modern Senators team, on Oct. 8, 1992, a 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Civic Centre.
“Maybe Rome was Built in a Day,” read the Citizen headline the next day, a tip of the cap to the Senators Roman centurion theme.
This was the moment to celebrate with a full year of reflection, a salute to the Senators heroes of the past, the day that the long and sometimes arduous buildup came to fruition. The timing of the anniversary was such that it would have made perfect sense to start the “celly” in October of 2012, marking the 20 years since that opening night in the Glebe, when Neil Brady scored the first goal in franchise history and Doug Smail sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
That the Senators chose NOT to mark the occasion in October 2012 will go down as one of their best decisions in recent memory. As if the wounds of a three-month lockout were not deep enough, the pain and suffering would have been multiplied by having to cancel the feel-good, anniversary season.
Senators management staff say they can’t take much credit for making the correct call. It had nothing to do with expecting a lockout this fall. Early in 2011, with the pending CBA hassles way off in the distance, the decision was made to mark the occasion during the 2011-12 NHL season, a year early, in effect.
“It was just dumb luck,” says Senators president Cyril Leeder, about niftily avoiding a head-on collision with the lockout. “We asked the NHL which year was appropriate to celebrate an anniversary and they said both were. So, we chose last year.”
Great call. Looking out from the black hole that has been the 2012-13 lockout, the 2011-12 season grows more fondly upon reflection:
At most home games, players from previous Senators teams were honoured, including 14 originals on opening night. Brady was there. Brad Marsh. Original captain Laurie Boschman. Fans received anniversary pins as they entered Scotiabank Place.
Along with the 20th anniversary bash, 2011-12 was the year of the NHL All-Star Game and festival in Ottawa, after years of being unable to attract the gig due to hotel and convention space limitations. The festival at the newly built Convention Centre was a smash hit — it felt as though the entire region, along with NHL greats past and present, were all together under one roof.
This was also:
— The year of the Daniel Alfredsson comeback from back surgery.
— The year that Erik Karlsson, the captain’s Swedish compatriot, would win the Norris Trophy in just his third NHL season.
— The year the City of Ottawa would induct four Senators pioneers into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame — Bruce Firestone, Leeder, Randy Sexton and Rod Bryden.
— The year rookie head coach Paul MacLean would bring just the right mix of folksy charm and tough love to an up-and-coming group. MacLean made it fun for players to come to the rink, but he had the gumption to nail star centre Jason Spezza’s butt to the bench for parts of Game 6 against the Rangers.
— The year Mike Fisher would return to Ottawa for the first time since being traded away the previous spring in the Senators’ remarkably quick rebuilding program.
— The year of the heritage hockey sweater, to celebrate the early Ottawa teams that won Stanley Cups as the Silver Seven and then Senators. It was risky, having players in a rebuilding season wearing jerseys with a big O on the chest. In a long losing streak, they would have been the Ottawa Zeroes. Instead the O stood for Originals.
— The year the Senators would be picked for last place by many hockey experts but would defy the odds and nail down the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
— The year Ottawa would push the New York Rangers to seven games in their first-round playoff series, before losing Game 7 by a 2-1 score.
Looking back from the dark shadows of a locked out October, November and December, it’s the little things we all appreciate from the last season played. The rhythm of a daily schedule. Morning gatherings at the rink. The stretch drive to games that matter, back when the games people played took place on the ice.