Monday, January 28, 2008

Alfy who?

Not the best way to start a 3-game road trip. A 6-1 spanking in Philadelphia. The Senators were not a few lucky bounces away from pulling this one out. They were full value for the defeat in what had to be one of their worst performances of the year. The players were challenged by the coaching staff and they did not respond. This is one of those losses where you hope they remember it for a long time. Some losses are easy to forget and should be forgotten but not this one. The next time they believe they are kings of the hill and 2 or 3 notches better than the other teams in the east, just remember Philly.

As I am sure you read in the newspapers, the team flew out of Philly and down to Ocala, Florida. It’s a small town where the number #1 business is thoroughbred horse ranches. There are many, many wealthy people to have their farms here to bread, train and house their horses. Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk is one of them. Each year he brings the team down for an afternoon visit while they are in Florida. The players get up in the morning, head to the ranch and then fly out to Sunrise, Florida in the afternoon.

Here in the hotel you can leaf through local lifestyle magazines and look at some of the real estate for sale in the area. It is not unusual to see farms for sale in the 10’s of millions of dollars. You wouldn’t know it by walking around the town of Ocala. There is nothing special or posh about the place, only the great wealth which exists in the outlying areas.

The Hilton hotel we stay at even has its own horse. His name is Buddy and he is a Clydesdale who has his own barn and grazing area behind the hotel. They use him for carriage rides and giving hotel guests something to pet and feed.

On the ice, the first 2 periods against the Panthers were much better than the Flyer game, but the result left most everyone with the same feeling, “where has the magic gone”. The 3rd period was another defensive letdown that cost the team. The coaching staff has to be getting exasperated with the individual breakdowns which are costing the team. You don’t often see a team which is first in the league offensively but now in the bottom third of the league defensively. Teams who have these kinds of problems keeping the puck out of their net don’t usually stay in first place. Don’t look now but the comfy gap between Ottawa and the other teams in the East is getting narrower each day.

The road trip ends here in Tampa and then it’s the All-Star break. The players have talked, the coaches have talked and today GM Brian Murray went in and talked to the players. Bottle what ever was in that speech as the Senators came up with the 8-4 win. Daniel Alfredsson with 3 goals and 4 assists. On our Sportsnet broadcast one of our replays clearly showed Alfredsson tipping a puck before it got to Jason Spezza for a goal. The original call did not give Alfredsson an assist. I have to give credit to our freelance Tampa based stats guy, who after the game went down to the official scorer’s room and asked him to look at our replays. He did and then changed the assists to give Alfredsson the point. It gave him 7 points on the game and the 2nd most any player has ever had in a road game in the NHL.

You would not have known that if you had watched any of the network sports shows that night. Toronto was playing, Montreal was playing, Jerome Iginla was on the ice somewhere….you know the drill. On most late sportscasts, the Senators win, Alfredsson’s hat trick and 7 points to take over the NHL points lead was the 4th or 5th story and was given no specific attention.

All of the major network sports shows come out of Toronto. Most of the people who put those shows together grew up in Toronto and live in Toronto. Many of them are Leaf fans. Many of them hate the Senators simply because they are Leaf fans. I get all that. What I don’t get is the complete lack of recognition that this bias exists. If you exchange the name Alfredsson for Sundin, Iginla, Lecavalier, St.Louis this would have been the biggest story of the night. The only Senator name which may have received its just due in this situation would have been Spezza. Even though he plays for Ottawa he is still the darling of the Toronto media since many of them have known him since he was 10 years old.

I know there are many who say Ottawa should stop whining and drop this huge inferiority complex and just move on. There is a great deal of truth in that. We here in Ottawa do whine a lot about Toronto as does everyone else in the country who is not in Toronto. But each time anyone from Ottawa or Calgary or Edmonton tries to move forward and mature, they are slapped in the face yet again with this GTA view of the world which we consume each night on our network sportscasts.

I do not expect it to change. I do not care about it on most days. I do not hate the Leafs or the city of Toronto. I would at some point during my lifetime, like to hear an admission from anyone at the network level that in fact they do not consider national interest first, but rather Toronto viewership first. It’s ok! I understand. It’s the biggest and most lucrative audience in the country and not pandering to them is business suicide. I get it. I would do the same thing. Just don’t try and pretend that the rest of the country matters as much because it does not in the broadcasting sense. There is nothing wrong with that. It just is what it is. Just have the guts to admit it and we can all move on. You feeling superior and the rest of us feeling snubbed. Along with Tim Horton’s coffee, its what we do as Canadians.

See you at the rink.