By Hafeez Janmohamed
They were the laughing stock of the National Hockey League in the early to mid-1990s, but the Ottawa Senators have come a long way in nine seasons.
Since entering the NHL in 1992 the Senators have steadily improved to the point that this year’s team is considered a favourite to win the Stanley Cup.
The team’s success today serves as a reminder of the glory days of its earlier incarnation,the Ottawa Hockey Club of the early 1900s.
Today, a plaque stands at the corner of Gladstone and Bay Streets to commemorate Ottawa’s first Stanley Cup, won in 1903.
It also honours the site of the Dey Arena where they won that championship.
Paul Kitchen, an Ottawa sports historian, and a past president of the Society of International Hockey Researchers, was instrumental in having the plaque put up on March 20, 1997.
He says that Gladstone and Bay is such a busy intersection that no one had any idea that the arena was there.
“The only thing to do was to get the plaque put up, so that the people of Ottawa could reflect on the richness of their hockey history.”
Ian Mendes, communications manager for the Ottawa Senators, agrees with Kitchen.
The Ottawa franchise won four consecutive Stanley Cups early in the decade from 1903-1905, They were challenged and defended successfully four times during that three year span, Mendes says.
The Silver Seven also won another Stanley Cup in 1909.
“During the first decade of the 20th century, you couldn’t find a more successful professional hockey team,” says Mendes.
“The Gladstone Street plaque is a great way to honour the Senators from the past, and remind fans that there was successful professional hockey in Ottawa long before Alexei Yashin and Marian Hossa,” says Mendes.
In fact, Kitchen says many parallels can be drawn between the Ottawa Silver Seven team of 1903 and today’s Senators.
In terms of popularity, the fans packed the Dey Arena, and later the Aberdeen Pavilion, just as they pack the Corel Centre today
He also points out that the Silver Seven had never won a Cup before the 1902-03 season.
One might think it’s safe to assume that a plaque representing such a monumental occasion in Ottawa hockey history would be well-known and inspirational to both sports fans in Ottawa and the Senators players.
Not necessarily. Leon McWhirter of the Ottawa Sports Gallery, a merchandise and memorabilia store that specializes in autographed memorabilia, wasn’t even aware that the plaque existed.
He says the plaque should be promoted more so Ottawa hockey fans become aware of the city’s hockey history.
In terms of the players, Mendes says he’d wager that none of the players even know the plaque exists.
“It’s in such an obscure location, that hardly anybody knows it’s even there,” he says.
“How many people would think the Senators used to play in a building that is now a laundromat on Gladstone Street?”
However, he does say that in the Senators dressing room, they have a tribute to the previous Stanley Cup winning teams from Ottawa and that serves as an inspiration for the players.