Vote early, vote often.
Al Capone, the Chicago gangster of the 1920s and ’30s, is among those credited with coining the phrase. This from the man who also said: “You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”
Fans of the Ottawa Senators didn’t put a gun to anyone’s head to get four Senators named among the starting six for the NHL All-Star Game here on Jan. 29, but they did vote early and often (30 votes per e-mail address!).
They voted late, too, on behalf of winger Milan Michalek, who came from behind to edge out Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel at the wire, much to the consternation of Leaf fans who sat on Kessel’s lead, always a mistake in today’s NHL.
Leave it to the Senators – or, their fans in this case — to do something in the “third period” of the vote, as the team has been making noise in the third periods of games all season long. They’re never out of it, and now four of them are in it – that is, the All-Star Game this city has long sought since rejoining the league in 1992.
And this is what saves Thursday’s vote announcement from being a complete farce.
A). Every other team and its fans were free to vote early and often for their favorite players, but didn’t have the same urgency – possibly because outside of the host city few care about this game?
B) At least the Senators are one of the surprise clubs of the entire NHL, rummaging among the Eastern Conference leaders at the halfway point when most analysts had them picked to finish among the conference sadsacks. How silly would the Sens-heavy voting look for a team outside the top eight?
My hunch is that a poor first half by Ottawa would have tempered the vote more than a little. As it is, fans are damn proud of their club and each of the four Ottawa players voted in – defenceman Erik Karlsson, captain Daniel Alfredsson, centre Jason Spezza and winger Michalek — can make a case he belongs in the game. Michalek was tied for the league goal-scoring lead until he suffered a concussion that set him back. Karlsson leads all defencemen in scoring. Spezza is among the top 10 scorers and Alfredsson, likely an all-star captain as the face of the franchise in the twilight of his career, is enjoying a superb bounce back season after back surgery.
If an impartial observer were to pick six starters, would four of them be Senators? Of course not, but anyone who takes offence to the results – hello Leaf Nation — is taking the entire spectacle too seriously. As competitions go, the NHL All-Star Game is a Pro Bowl affair, a meaningless exhibition game that brings together the hockey family and its sponsors for a fun weekend.
The four-day festival is a celebration of the sport, a hockey love-in appreciated by no one more than the hometown fans, who relish the opportunity to acknowledge the top players on their own team.
This year it’s Ottawa, with at least four participants. Last year, the Carolina Hurricanes saluted captain Eric Staal, goaltender Cam Ward and rookie sensation Jeff Skinner.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke applauded Senators fans and said he hoped Leaf supporters would do the same when Toronto’s turn comes up again. Had Senators fans not taken the initiative to vote in their heroes, the NHL would have ensured there was local representation, so in that sense voters saved the league the trouble.
Leaf defenceman Dion Phaneuf and Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas broke through the Senators monopoly to nab the other two starting spots.
Still, the twitter-verse was abuzz with crackbacks against Senators fans for taking their loyalty to a new height.
@dan_dufour7: Don’t people in Ottawa have anything better to do than sit around and vote for their mediocre players #ASG
@Lbrown1069: Bahaha, 4 Sens in the Starting Lineup in the ASG. Why is every ASG such a joke? #MissTheOldDays
@astockey: 4 Senators start ASG in Ottawa? Ballot box stuffing … Or fan enthusiasm? Your call.
Closer to home, far from feeling sheepish about electing four representatives, fans were proud to have to come this far in the evolution of the franchise. Imagine how this vote might have gone in the early to mid ’90s when Ottawa’s nascent fan base was so easily eclipsed by Canadiens and Leaf fanatics. To care enough to vote for locals, in a system that allows it, mission accomplished.
Karlsson, 21, quickly becoming a team darling, credited his father for at least some of his massive support, first overall with 939,591 votes.
According to Karlsson, his father, prone to Luddite tendencies, opened not one but two e-mail accounts “just so he could vote more.
“It’s good for him to finally learn the progress in the world here, and realize it’s 2012 now,” said Karlsson, grinning.
Mr. Karlsson caught on to Capone’s “vote early, vote often” thing.