There is a special birthday in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata this weekend.
Canadian Tire Centre turns 25. Its doors first opened on Jan. 15, 1996, for a Bryan Adams concert. The Senators played their first game in their new arena on Jan. 17, 1996, when they lost to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life has at that arena. I don’t know how many Sens games I have been to there — I would ballpark it somewhere between 600 and 700. But I thought it would be fun to look back and share my 25 most memorable moments at the arena. I am not counting numerous concerts as great moments in the building — I often joke that the four best concerts I have ever seen there are Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks and Garth Brooks. I am not counting the 2009 World Juniors either. I am sticking entirely to the Sens.
25. Paul MacClone
Mike Watson was just sitting in his company seats, minding his own business, watching the Ottawa Senators take on the Florida Panthers on a January night during the 2012-13 season. The casual discussion among reporters after the game was how he broke Twitter.
Watson’s friends had told him that he looked like then-Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean. When he got face time on the new high-definition scoreboard, in the front row and directly behind the coach, the crowd buzzed and cheered.
The shot of Watson behind the bench spread quickly on social media. Surely, everyone thought, he must have been planted in that seat. He wasn’t. The last time he had sat in those seats, Cory Clouston was the coach, and no one noticed him.
As the season went on, the MacLean doppelganger became a local celebrity and was somewhat of a mascot during Ottawa’s playoff run.
24. Super Kane
It was super cheesy, but it was a moment I will never forget.
Before Patrick Kane went out to face Brian Elliott in the Breakaway Challenge during the 2011-12 NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition, Marian Hossa skated out to put a Superman cape and a pair of Clark Kent glasses on him.
Kane skated in on Elliott and dove as if he was flying like Superman. Elliott, using his television childhood acting experience, flopped out of the way to allow Kane to score. The crowd loved it, and it was one of those never-forget-it moments enjoyed by everyone in the sold-out building.
23. Teenage Scout Jonathan Pitre
One of the most emotional and beautiful gestures the Sens ever made was signing Jonathan Pitre to a professional contract as a scout for one day.
Pitre suffered from one of the most painful diseases known, epidermolysis bullosa (EB). Because he couldn’t scratch without tearing his skin, he became known as the Butterfly Boy. His love for life and his inspiringly positive attitude turned him into a local celebrity in Ottawa. There was no bigger Sens fan than Pitre, and on Nov. 21, 2014, the Sens signed him as an honourary scout.
When Pitre was shown on the scoreboard sitting with Bryan Murray and Sens’ management in their suite, the ovation in the building was one of the most thunderous and emotional ever seen.
Pitre died in 2018. The Sens now present the Jonathan Pitre Award to the hardest-working player in their development camp.
22. Super Mario Returns
This is a big personal one for me.
I was living in Seattle, working as VP of Marketing for Pacific Trading Cards at this point in my life. I did, however, have a lot of business trips to Toronto and Montreal, so I got to come home and go to quite a few games during this time.
Mario Lemieux came out of retirement during the 2000-01 season, but the Penguins had already played twice in Ottawa. His first game back in Ottawa was Oct. 18, 2001.
My dad was deep into his battle with cancer, and I wanted to do something special for him and for us. He talked about Lemieux a lot, and I think he felt a bond with him because of their battles. We had road-tripped many times from home near Prescott, ON to the Forum in Montreal to see the Habs play when I was a kid — there were no Senators then. We also went to countless Ottawa Rough Riders CFL games and Grey Cups and Montreal Expos games. Those games were special for us. They brought us closer together. There was nothing better than going to a sporting event with my dad — even equestrian show jumping during the 1976 Olympics.
With the help of some contacts from the NHL, I was able to buy ice level seats in the disabled area for Lemieux’s first game back. We made the 45-minute drive on the 416 in the afternoon and ate at Marshy’s Bar and Grill at the arena. We got in our seats early and watched the warm-up. We were awestruck when Zdeno Chara skated by us. On skates, he was a big, fast, scary dude.
The Penguins won the game 3-0. Lemieux was pointless but dominated the game nonetheless. Chara got in a fight in the second period, and we were glad we were not Josef Melichar at that moment. Sitting at ice level, my dad was blown away by the speed and pace of the game. Yvan Cournoyer and Guy Lafleur never looked this fast from the blue seats at The Forum.
It was the last game of any kind my dad was able to go to. It was a special night, and he never forgot it. And now that I am a cancer survivor as well, it makes the memory of that night even more special.
21. Kovalev Moonwalks
Call him L’Artiste or AK27 and be awed by him on some nights and frustrated by him on others. But the performance he gave on Jan. 3, 2010, was one for the ages.
Kovalev had the first four-goal game of his career and added an assist as the Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 7-4. He celebrated his game and first star selection with a Michael Jackson moonwalk on the ice.
It was a gesture that brought the crowd and gave Kovalev a special connection with the crowd. It’s hard to think of many moments as a Sens fan that were more fun.
20. A Poignant Ceremony
An attack on Parliament Hill that claimed the life of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo led to the postponement of that night’s NHL game between the Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sens returned to action three nights later against the New Jersey Devils in a game that featured one of the most memorable pre-game ceremonies ever seen at Canadian Tire Centre.
Fans wore red and were waving Canadian flags. Players from both teams stood shoulder-to-shoulder around the centre ice circle. Fans held glow sticks, which served as candles. Fans paid tribute to Cpl. Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Technology allowed fans in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to simultaneously sing the national anthems together. Fans in Ottawa gave a standing ovation that lasted long after military and police personnel left the ice after the ceremony.
No other moment in the history of Canadian Tire Centre transcended hockey like that one did.
19. Alfie’s Jersey Retired
I can’t remember a game at Canadian Tire Centre during Daniel Alfredsson’s career when the chants of “Alfie! Alfie!” did not echo throughout the building. But never was that chant more heartfelt and emotional on Dec. 29, 2016.
Daniel Alfredsson’s jersey was retired that night, as the Sens raised the No. 11 banner to the rafters. At centre ice during the ceremony, Alfredsson’s father, Hasse, broke down and cried. His mother, Margareta, was also emotional. Alfie’s wife, Bibbi, their children, Hugo, Loui, Fenix and William, and his siblings, Henric and Cecilia, were all there with him.
And the sell-out crowd of 20,011 fans felt like they were part of the family as well.
Nobody remembers that the Sens lost in overtime to Detroit that night. They just remember paying tribute to the greatest Senator of all time.
18. Hemsky’s Sick Goal
The Senators acquired Hemsky during the 2013-14 season, and it’s hard to believe he played only 20 games for Ottawa.
Perhaps people can’t believe he was there for such a short time because the one memory they have of him is one of the nicest goals in Senators history.
Late in the season, the Senators played host to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hemsky took a pass from Milan Michalek, embarrassed a couple of defenders, and then beat goalie Ben Bishop. The building seemed to buzz about the goal for the rest of the season. And any Sens fan who hears Hemsky’s name immediately brings up his famous goal.
17. Gretzky’s Good-Bye
Word had leaked out before the New York Rangers game in Ottawa on April 15, 1999 that Wayne Gretzky was going to retire at the end of the season. It was a Thursday night game, and it would be Gretzky’s final game in Canada.
Gretzky’s family was at the game, and it was an emotional night for everyone in the building. Fans brought signs, chanted his name and cheered passionately for the Great One.
Late in the game, a video on the scoreboard paid tribute to Gretzky. The game was delayed for several minutes as fans cheered him on and chanted, “One More Year!”
The game ended in a 2-2 tie, and Gretzky was named the game’s first, second and third star.
16. Spezza Dangles Habs
Was this goal nicer than the one scored by Hemsky?
They both featured some sweet dangles.
What makes Spezza’s goal better, however, is that it was an overtime winner, and it was against the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Spezza took a feed from Dany Heatley along the boards, absolutely posterized Montreal defenceman Sheldon Souray, and then beat Jose Theodore high to the glove side to send the crowd at the arena into a frenzy. He was a young star who represented the Senators’ future, and that was the moment that Ottawa fans knew they had a superstar in their lineup for years to come.
15. Pageau! Pageau-Pageau-Pageau!
If you’re not from Montreal, and you are not a Canadiens fan, don’t you find it obnoxious when Habs fans show up in droves and start singing their Olé, Olé, Olé song.
Actually, it’s not their song. It’s a soccer song. It doesn’t belong at a hockey game. Why not just sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’?
In Game 3 of the 2012-13 quarterfinals, rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau emerged as the star in what Sens fans remember as one of the best Ottawa-Montreal games ever played. Pageau got the second playoff hat trick in Senators history — Daniel Alfredsson recorded the other one in 1998 — and the Senators crushed the Habs 6-1.
The game also featured a line brawl with a unanimous decision going to the Senators, and coaches Michel Therrien of Montreal and Ottawa coach Paul MacLean took verbal shots at each other in post-game media scrums.
But the best and most memorable moment was the crowd singing Pageau! Pageau! Pageau! To not only celebrate their local hero, but to also get under the skin of Montreal fans.
Say what you want about the Ottawa-Toronto rivalry, but that night, the Ottawa-Montreal rivalry took things to another level.
14. Big Rig’s 1000th game
During his years with the Senators, Chris Phillips was a fan favourite. He was never flashy, and he did not put up many points. He was a rugged, lunch bucket stay-at-home defender. Fans loved his grit, toughness and leadership.
On Feb. 9, 2012, Phillips played in his 1,000th NHL game and scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner against the Nashville Predators. There was pre-game and in-game recognition for Phillips throughout the night.
What made the win even more special was that Mike Fisher, who had been traded to Nashville 364 days earlier, returned to Ottawa for the first time. There was a tribute for him shown on the scoreboard, and he received a warm ovation.
But when Phillips and scored and celebrated the winning goal, the crowd erupted.
After the game, I left the press box and went down to the media scrum. Jason Spezza summed the night up better than anyone.
“Scoring two goals just proves that there are hockey gods, and they rewarded a good person,” he said.
13. Bobby Ryan’s Hat Trick
Sometimes, as hockey fans, we put the game aside and realize that our favourite players are people, just like us. They have their challenges and their problems and obstacles. They just happen to be really good at hockey.
Bobby Ryan gave fans one of those human moments during the 2019-20 season.
When Ryan returned from a three-month rehab stint for an alcohol problem last season, fans greeted him with a standing ovation and chanted, “Bobby! Bobby!” He was always a fan favourite and a very generous person. He sponsored a suite in the building each night that was reserved for children from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and their families. He was hands-on and involved in what happened in the suite, including decorating it.
In that first game back, Ryan brought the crowd to tears by scoring a hat trick in a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ryan’s finest moment as a Senator, and the ovation he received was heartfelt.
12. Alfie’s All-Star Pair
The All-Star Game at the Canadian Tire Centre, which was known as Scotiabank Place then, was a once-in-a-generation treat for fans in Ottawa.
Team Chara and Team Alfredsson faced off, with Chara’s team winning by a score of 12-9.
I was shoe-horned into the media gallery for the game, and the one thing I will remember was that players were allowed to tweet from the bench. I was surrounded by a throng of writers and reporters who literally had no idea what was going on below them because they were glued to Twitter. So every time there was a great play or a nice goal, I blurted out, “Did you see that?!” Then a couple of hundred heads would pop up from their phones.
The event was incredible, but the game was not. The one moment that brought the crowd to its feet was when Daniel Alfredsson scored two goals in a 91-second span, bringing the crowd to a deafening “Alfie! Alfie!” chant.
11. Lazar’s Happy Meal
Ottawa fans will never forget the famous Hamburglar Run during the 2014-15 season.
In early February of that season, the Senators were out of the playoff picture. Craig Anderson was injured, and then a collision between teammates Robin Lehner and Clarke MacArthur put both players out of the lineup. Andrew Hammond, considered an average-at-best AHL goalie, would go between the pipes and finish out a disappointing season.
But then something magical happened. Hammond started winning. Then fans found out his nickname was the Hamburglar. Then Hammond kept winning. The Senators inched their way back into the playoff race, with Hammond being named the first star on a regular basis.
After a 6-4 win over the Bruins, fans showered the ice with McDonald’s hamburgers. In perhaps the most memorable moment of the Hamburglar Run, Curtis Lazar circled back onto the ice, picked up a burger, unwrapped it, and started eating it on the ice as the crowd roared in approval.
At one point in the season, Sportsclubstats.com had listed Ottawa’s chances to make the playoffs at less than 1%. Hammond went 20-1-2 down the stretch with a 1.79 goals against average and a .941 save percentage to help Ottawa make the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
10. Alfie’s 400th an OT Winner
On Dec. 30, 2011, the sold-out crowd of 20,500 was treated to a special night. Not only did Alfredsson net his 400th career goal, but it was also an overtime game-winner.
The Senators beat the visiting Calgary Flames 4-3 after the Flames had taken a 3-0 first period lead.
The power play goal, assisted by Erik Karlsson and Chris Neil, brought everyone in the building to their feet.
9. Stone Keeps Sens Alive
It was fan appreciation night in Ottawa as the Senators hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 7, 2015. If the Curtis Lazar eating a hamburger on the ice moment was the most memorable of the Hamburglar Run, this game was the most exciting.
Sidney Crosby scored just 10 seconds into the game, and before the first period was over, the Sens trailed 3-0.
The Senators clawed their way back into the game, and the crowd could feel it coming. Trailing 3-2 with their net empty, the Senators tied the game when sixth attacker Mike Hoffman beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot. The goal resulted in one of the loudest ovations in the history of the building.
Ottawa won the game 4-3 when Mark Stone scored in overtime. The goal triggered a celebration in the building that lasted long after the game ended.
8. Karlsson Sets Up Brassard
Dion Phaneuf scored the winning goal in overtime, but it was the tying goal that gave Senators fans the quintessential moment of Erik Karlsson’s career in Ottawa.
On April 15, 2017, the Senators were hosting the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. The Bruins won the first game of the series and were in control of the second game. Trailing 3-1, the Sens got a goal from Chris Wideman to make the score 3-2.
Then, the DJ fired up the magic. Whenever the team was in need of a big goal or a comeback goal during the 2016-17 Ottawa Senators playoff run, Cotton-Eyed Joe would play over the PA system during a third period commercial break. Time and time again, the Senators scored right after the song played.
Karlsson took the puck, circled the offensive zone, had every Bruin on the ice chasing him and goalie Tuuka Rask out of position. He then threaded the needle with a cross-ice pass to Derick Brassard, who fired the puck into the open net to tie the game.
Less than two minutes into overtime, Mark Stone fed the puck back to Dion Phaneuf, who blasted in the winning goal to tie the score and start Ottawa’s incredible playoff run.
7. Captain Condor
When Kyle Turris was in Ottawa, he was a beloved member of the Senators and well respected for the work that he did in the community.
In Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Second Round, Turris beat Henrik Lundqvist and gave the Sens a 3-2 lead in their series against the New York Rangers.
The game was another thriller. Brassard scored with 1:26 left to play in the third period — moments after the fans danced to Cotton-Eyed Joe — to force overtime. Turris scored the game-winner, triggering another loud celebration at the Canadian Tire Centre.
After the game, Turris rushed across town to the end-of-season banquet of the Capital City Condors, a youth hockey team that enables developmentally disabled kids to play hockey. Turris was their honorary captain and spent countless hours with the team.
6. Greening Day
The Senators trailed Pittsburgh 2-0 heading into the third game of their Eastern Conference semi-final series, and it looked like the Penguins were poised for a sweep.
Ottawa trailed 1-0 late in the game, and a slashing penalty to Erik Karlsson put the Penguins on the power play for the final minutes of the game.
Then, the unexpected happened. Alfredsson scored the tying goal, shorthanded, with just 28 seconds left to play to send the game to overtime.
Craig Anderson had one of his best games as a Senator, robbing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the first overtime period and stopping 49 of the 50 shots he faced.
In the second overtime period, Colin Greening netted the winner at the 7:39 mark to win it for Ottawa.
5. Kravchuk’s Empty Netter
It’s hard to imagine that an empty-net goal would be one of the most unforgettable moments for a team on their home ice. But if you were in the building on May 2, 1998, and witnessed Igor Kravchuk’s goal, you totally get it.
The Senators faced the heavily favoured Devils in the first round of the 1997-98 playoffs. Ottawa got lights out goaltending from Damian Rhodes, some great play by Alexei Yashin, and solid defensive play from their young blueliners Wade Redden and Chris Phillips. But when Kravchuk potted his famous empty-net goal, it triggered the celebration marking the first playoff series victory in modern franchise history.
4. Tugger’s Shutout
The Corel Centre, as it was known then, was packed on April 12, 1997. The Buffalo Sabres were in town to close out the season.
Although it was the final game of the regular season, it was purely a playoff atmosphere. In fact, it was a Game 7 playoff atmosphere.
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The Senators outplayed Buffalo, doubling them in shots throughout the game and controlling the puck. But they couldn’t beat Dominik Hasek.
Late in the third period, defenceman Steve Duchesne jumped into a rush and fired the shot that provided the game’s only goal. At the other end, Ottawa goalie Ron Tugnutt was flawless in picking up the shutout in the biggest regular-season win in Senators history. The 1-0 win sent the Senators to the playoffs for the first time in modern franchise history.
3. Sens Force Game 7
The Penguins beat Ottawa in double overtime of Game 7 in the 2016-17 Eastern Conference Finals, but how the Senators got to that game was another story.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead in Game 6, but the Sens came back and won the game 2-1 with some great goaltending by Craig Anderson and two of the best shots I have ever seen at that building.
The tying goal was a Bobby Ryan shot from a sharp angle. He took a feed on a slap pass from Kyle Turris and beat Matt Murray to the short side, going post and in.
The winning goal came from Mike Hoffman in the third period. He scored some great goals for the Senators, but the laser beam that he blasted past Murray went post and in and sent the Canadian Tire Centre crowd into hysterics. The Sens raised their sticks at centre ice after the game to possibly the longest post-game ovation the building has ever seen.
2. Pageau Scores Four
Jean-Gabriel Pageau had earned the nickname “The Honey Badger” by Senators’ coach Guy Boucher. But on April 29, 2017, the diminutive winger from Gatineau was much more than that.
Pageau had the best playoff performance in Senators history, scoring four goals, including the double-overtime winner, as the Sens beat the Rangers 6-5 to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Sens trailed the game in the third period — cue Cotton-Eyed Joe — and then Pageau scored his second and third goals of the game in the final four minutes of regulation time to tie things up.
In the second overtime, Pageau found himself on a two-on-one with linemate Tommy Wingels. Pageau beat Henrik Lundqvist with a wrist shot, sparking one of the craziest come-from-behind wins and wildest celebrations in Senators history.
1. Game 3, 2007 Stanley Cup Final
As electric as Canadian Tire Centre has been over the past quarter-century, nothing beats Game 3 of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Final.
The Senators lost the first two games of the Final on the road against the Anaheim Ducks, but that did not dampen the energy in the building when they returned to home ice. Ottawa won Game 3 5-3 in one for the ages. It was one of the most entertaining games the team ever played, and it was also, at the time, the most important win in Senators history.
In the media scrum after the game, I remember Senators’ coach Bryan Murray. He was always very kind to me, whether it be during an interview or just chatting if we happened to be riding the elevator together. I thought, that night, that this must be his epic moment as an NHL head coach. I also thought of the irony of Murray facing the Anaheim team he built when he was the Ducks’ general manager.
I will never forget the feeling I had leaving the arena that night. It is still like nothing I have felt at the Canadian Tire Centre.
The Senators dropped the puck on the 2020-21 season on the 25th anniversary of the building’s first event. There have been highs and lows, joy and heartbreak. Even though the team has struggled over the past two seasons, the optimism is high that players like Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stuetzle will bring some memorable moments that will last for the next 25 years.