The rivalry between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs was once one of the fiercest in all of hockey. Dubbed ‘The Battle of Ontario’, the two fan bases hated each other. Judging by the fact that there was a fight in the stands during one of this year’s games, they probably still do. The players seemed like they hated each other too, and it appeared as though there was no way to get through a 60 minute game without some kind of brouhaha at the rivalry’s peak. There’s something special about watching these two teams go at each other on a Saturday night for Hockey Night in Canada.
Most of the rivalry was built in the playoffs, but the names on this list reflect how long it has been since the rivalry was at its peak. The Senators have done their part, reaching the postseason seven of the last ten seasons. The Leafs, on the other hand, have made the playoffs just once in the past ten seasons. It’s hard to build a rivalry off of that record, but proximity and past precedents have kept it alive for now.
5. Alexei Yashin
Yashin was a star for the Senators and their main offensive weapon, scoring over 75 points in a season four times. In 1998-99, Yashin scored 94 points in the regular season. In the playoffs, he didn’t score a point in four playoff games against the Leafs. In 1999-00, he tallied 88 points. In the playoffs, he managed one assist in another sweep at the hands of the Leafs.
Shayne Corson was revered in Toronto for his performance in shutting down Yashin in 1999-00, but most of the credit went to Yashin himself as a disappearing act when the games really mattered.
4. The fans
Four hours down Highway 401 gets you from Toronto to Ottawa. Couple that with the fact that Leafs tickets are extremely overpriced and it’s easy to see why Toronto fans make a point of catching a Leafs game on the road in the nation’s capital. The crowd at Canadian Tire Centre (formerly Scotiabank Place and Corel Centre) is usually split pretty close to 50-50. Rival fans became such a problem that for a time, the team started creating rules to try to keep them away.
Leafs fans had a propensity to boo Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson (more on him later) – in his own home arena. That, combined with the numerous Leafs jerseys littering the stands became too much for the Senators to stomach, but it also contributed to the rivalry. It makes for a very unique atmosphere.
3. Patrick Lalime
For a few years, Lalime was one of the top goalies in the league. He finished in the top five of Vezina voting and led the Senators over the Flyers in a playoff series they shouldn’t have won. Like Yashin, Lalime’s spot in the Battle of Ontario is painful for Senators fans. It was Game 7, Leafs and Sens, and following an emotional overtime victory in Game 6, the Senators were confident heading into the decisive game. The score ended 4-1 favouring the Leafs, and two soft goals by Joe Nieuwendyk now define Patrick Lalime’s career.
He was never even close to the same player after this game. Whether this was a coincidence or not, it has certainly tainted Lalime’s legacy.
2. Darcy Tucker
Tucker was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve throughout his career. A hard nosed, rough and tough Alberta boy who Don Cherry loved to rave about on Coach’s Corner, Tucker had more than his share of run ins with the Senators. The fans in Ottawa hated Tucker following a number of incidents, but two stick out as fueling the rivalry.
In 2006, Tucker tried to hit Senators forward Patrick Eaves. This didn’t go well, and Tucker bounced off and fell to the ice. Then, he jumped Eaves and basically forced him to fight. It wasn’t hard to tell that Eaves wasn’t used to engaging in fisticuffs. In the words of Joe Bowen, “[Eaves] took three right hands right on the pointy end of the jaw.”
Before that, the more significant incident happened in 2003. After a bit of a skirmish involving Travis Green and the Senators bench, Tucker decided to fight Chris Neil while Neil was on the bench. Later claiming he was spat on by Neil, Tucker started a brawl that had coach Pat Quinn banging on the glass between the benches and the Senators throwing things over at the Leafs.
Despite both of those iconic fights, the most famous Leafs-Senators incident was a hit that saw Tucker on the receiving end. Which leads us to…
1. Daniel Alfredsson
Mr. Alfredsson was easily the most involved member in the recent history of the Battle of Ontario. A great two way player and longtime Senators captain, he is the most decorated player in Ottawa Senators history. He scored over 1000 points with the Senators and led them to the Cup finals in 2006-07. And Leafs fans hated him.
Alfredsson was at the centre of a few of the Battle of Ontario’s most memorable moments.
It was the 2002 playoffs, and there were just over two minutes left in the third period of a tie game, 2-2. The Leafs were hemmed in their own end, and the puck came around the boards to Tucker. As he tried to clear the puck, he was hit from behind by Alfredsson. As Tucker lay hurt on the ice, the puck popped into the slot area, and the Senators scored the game winning goal. Who scored it? That’s right. Alfredsson.
After this, Alfredsson was public enemy number one for Leafs fans and received a chorus of boos each time he touched the puck. The Leafs went on to win the series, but that doesn’t matter to the angry fans.
Those boos intensified after Alfredsson mocked Leafs captain, Mats Sundin. A frustrated Sundin flung his stick into the crowd after it broke on a shot attempt, earning him a one game suspension. The next time the Senators and Leafs played each other, Alfredsson’s stick broke as he tried for a one timer, and he pretended to throw it before skating off the ice. Tie Domi, along with many Leafs fans, wasn’t happy about the Leafs’ captain being razzed.
Alfredsson wasn’t always the villain in this rivalry. In 2008, Leafs forward Mark Bell made him the victim with a huge open ice hit. Senators fans were upset because the hit was from the blindside, and was involving their captain and star player. Leafs fans were not upset because it was Daniel Alfredsson.
Though the rivalry lacks recent intrigue, another playoff match up would easily ignite the burning embers of hostility. There is an extra passion and excitement in the games featuring the two Ontario based teams, and while the history was thrilling, fans on both sides are waiting for another chapter to be written in the near future.