City council’s recent decision to break with tradition and open the “Sens Mile” fan zone along Elgin Street ahead of the playoffs – in hopes of helping Ottawa’s NHL team actually make it to the post-season – backfired after club officials expressed concerns that the unusual move might jinx the Sens’ chances.
The Senators have been doing reasonably well this season – especially in the second half, after the All Star break – and have seen a spike in popularity due to the excitement around rookie goalie Andrew Hammond, otherwise known as the Hamburglar.
Hammond allowed only two or fewer goals in his first 12 games this year and in doing so he tied a 77-year-old record with former Boston Bruin Frank Brimsek.
On March 24, Coun. Rick Chiarelli introduced a motion to re-establish the Sens Mile along Elgin Street, even though the Sens had yet made to secure the wildcard playoff spot the team had been pursuing. In spite of objections being voiced by some superstitious fans, the motion was passed.
According to tradition, the Sens Mile only opens after the team makes it to the post-season. A day after the motion was passed, Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder sent a letter to city hall asking municipal officials to wait until the team qualifies for the playoffs before opening Sens Mile.
Created by Cameron Bishop in 2007 through social media promotion, the Sens Mile’s purpose is to provide Sens fans with a hub where they can congregate and cheer on their team.
The Sens Mile is located on a stretch of Elgin Street that is overflowing with pubs, bars and restaurants. The process of opening the Sens Mile involves putting up signs along the street and special deals from local businesses.
“Since the arena (Canadian Tire Centre) is located out in Kanata, Elgin Street helps create a sense of belonging within the fans,” says Ewa Celinski, co-ordinator for the Sens Mile Twitter account.
The Sens Mile is also a significant generator of income for the businesses along Elgin Street, which benefit financially during the team’s playoff runs.
“It attracts a lot of people that don’t generally come to Elgin Street,” says Sam Eyamie, co-owner of The Fox & Feather Pub and Grill. “The Senators do that all the time – they’re great for the city.”
Eyamie has been involved in the Sens Mile since it was first introduced in 2007, and that year – during which the Senators reached the Stanley Cup finals – he was able to witness the exciting atmosphere that is generated by the celebratory strip.
“The crowds just gathered on the streets and the celebration – I had never seen anything like it before, so it was fantastic,” he says.
Celinski says he thinks the city had justified reasons for opening the Sens Mile prematurely and mentioned that there has been discussion in the past around opening the Sens Mile all year-round.
Although there has been some backlash against the city for attempting to break tradition, many fans think that it doesn’t matter either way.
“I think the Ottawa Senators are the best team in the league right now and they’re not going to lose even to some stupid superstition like that,” said Samuel Priddle, a devoted Sens fan and a student at the University of Ottawa.
Hannah Shadbolt, also a student at the University of Ottawa, has grown up watching the Senators and does not buy into the idea that the Sens are now jinxed.
“The Sens Mile doesn’t impact whether they play well or not,” she says. “It just depends on their own ability to get there.”
However, the Senators lost three games in a row following the motion put forth on March 24, seriously jeopardizing the team’s chances of gaining a wildcard spot in the NHL playoff lineup.
Chiarelli has now been put in the centre of what is called the “Sens Mile Jinx,” with many people blaming him for the rough patch the Sens went through.
Fans have even gone as far as creating a tongue-in-cheek online petition to remove Chiarelli from his position as a city councilor.
Chiarelli has been taking the negativity in stride.
“I think it’s funny and I’m glad to see that democracy is alive and well,” he told the Ottawa Citizen.