During the Grey Cup a few weeks ago, I was watching the game — like many fans — with a couple of friends at a bar, in front of multiple TVs, with a cold drink in my hand and plenty of food to go around.
After Ottawa’s Bakari Grant batted Calgary’s final overtime pass attempt from the air, sealing the Redblacks’ shocking victory over the Stampeders and earning Ottawa its first Grey Cup championship since 1976, my friend — a lifelong Ottawa Senators fan — made an interesting point about the Redblacks triumph and its potential impact on the city’s other sports teams.
“Imagine the pressure on the Senators and Eugene Melnyk after the Redblacks win the Grey Cup and the Champions winning their (Can-Am baseball league) championship.”
That’s right Ottawa sports fans, a winning culture has been established here in the nation’s capital — without the help, at least in recent years, of the Ottawa Senators or the Ottawa 67’s.
Over the past year, soccer, baseball, and football have taken centre stage over hockey with the success of Ottawa Fury FC, the Ottawa Champions and the Redblacks.
It started last year when the Fury finished tied for first in the North American Soccer League with a 15-11-4 record. The team won its first Fall Season championship and made it to the NASL Soccer Bowl, where the Fury wound up losing 3-2 to the New York Cosmos.
While the team didn’t bring home the trophy, the Fury’s success gave fans in Ottawa a hunger for a sports championship — any championship. It’s something that the city hasn’t experienced since the 67’s won the Memorial Cup in 1999. Before that, in 1995, the Ottawa Lynx won the Triple-A International League’s Governors’ Cup.
Now, the city’s hunger for a champ has been satisfied twice in a single year.
While the Fury failed to capture their first ever championship, the Ottawa Champions picked up the mantle and took home the 2016 Can-Am League honours; in just the team’s second season, the players enjoyed a playoff run worthy of the name on their jerseys.
In the finals, the Champions found themselves down 2-0 in the best-of-five series after losing twice at home. Yet Ottawa pulled off three straight wins in New York to secure the league title.
The Redblacks capped off 2016 with their underdog victory over the Stamps. Despite becoming the first team to win their division with a losing record (8-9-1), the Redblacks beat the reigning champion Edmonton Eskimos in the East Final and beat the No. 1 Calgary team to end Ottawa’s 40-year Grey Cup drought.
With the success of the Fury, Champions and Redblacks, the pressure is now on the Senators and 67’s to keep the winning going in Ottawa.
Despite being a hockey town first, it has been a rough couple of years for the Sens and 67’s. After making it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012-13 season, Ottawa missed the playoffs the following year, lost in the first round to Montreal in 2015 and missed the playoffs again last year.
Meanwhile, the 67’s have been knocked out of the quarter-finals in each of the past two years after missing the playoffs in 2013 and 2014.
However both teams are in good position this season to do some damage in their respective leagues. The Sens are currently second in the Atlantic Division with a 16-11-2 record, while the 67’s are just four points out of second place in the OHL’s Eastern Conference with a 13-15-4 record.
With the recent success of three of its local teams, Ottawa is shaking off its label of being a dull government town where few care about the fortunes of its main sports franchises.
Ottawa is becoming a city of winners. Soccer, baseball, and football have done their part in the rebranding. Now it’s hockey’s turn to pull its weight and keep the good times rolling.