For a kid growing up in a hockey market, there is nothing like playing for your hometown team in front of your friends and family.
Erik Gudbranson is the latest in a long line of Ottawa area natives to fulfill that dream. The Ottawa Senators acquired the big, physical defenceman last week for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
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Gudbranson grew up in the Ottawa suburb of Orleans. He played his minor hockey in Ottawa but left home at the age of 16 to play junior hockey. He was one of the top defencemen in juniors while playing with the Kingston Frontenacs, and was selected third overall in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers.
Not only does the acquisition of Gudbranson give the Senators some experience and a physical presence on the back end, but it also gives the team a local player. Having local talent has been a huge piece of the Senators’ marketing and public relations strategy since the team returned to the NHL in 1991.
“Obviously, he’s a local guy that we like,” Senators GM Pierre Dorion said in a story on NHL.com. “And he was extremely excited when we talked to him about Ottawa, playing in his hometown, and we know that he’ll be someone that’ll fit in our lineup.”
There’s No Place Like Home
Gudbranson, 28, said in an NHL.com interview that his “mom was in borderline tears,” and that his childhood friends have been texting him and “they seem to be very excited.” His mother, Donna, is well-known in Ottawa as she ran for Ottawa City Council in the 2018 municipal election.
Thursday night’s trade caught Gudbranson by surprise. The Ducks wanted to clear some salary cap space, and he has one year remaining on his three-year, $12 million contract.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” Gudbranson told Matt Tidcombe of ottawasenators.com. “It’s one of those things that you think maybe this can happen and how cool it would be after playing in different cities and actually coming back home and getting that opportunity. It happened so quickly. It came right out of left field for me, but I couldn’t be more ecstatic and more excited to come back home and play.”
Most Popular Hometown Sens
The Senators have had a wide range of hometown heroes since coming back into the NHL in 1991. Some, like Jean-Gabriel Pageau, spent a long time in a Senators’ uniform. Others, like defenceman Jim Kyte of the expansion 1991-92 Senators, were there for just a cup of coffee. Although Kyte is well-known in the city and is an active member of the Sens Alumni, he played only four games in an Ottawa uniform.
While dozens of Ottawa players who suited up for their hometown, there are 10 that would stand out as the most popular.
Pageau was born in Ottawa and grew up across the river in Hull. He became a legend in Ottawa when he netted a hat trick in the 2012-13 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the rival Montreal Canadiens, sparking Ottawa fans to sing the “Pageau song,” which mocks the Montreal Canadiens fans’ singing of the “Ole Ole Ole” soccer song.
Pageau’s high energy level and penalty-killing skills prompted former coach Guy Boucher to call him “The Honey Badger.”
Pageau played 428 games in a Senators uniform, second-most among Ottawa-raised players.
One of the most popular Senators ever, “Boro Cop,” wasn’t even at the draft in Ottawa when they called his name. The rugged defenceman for the Smiths Falls Bears of the CJHL was in the garage, getting his gear ready to go out fishing with his friends when he heard his parents screaming. His mom ran into the garage to inform him he was a Senator, so Borowiecki got dressed and drove to Canadian Tire Centre to meet the Sens’ brass.
Borowiecki was a blue-collar, hard-working defenceman who steadily improved. His Chris Neil-style of play endeared him to the local fans. He cemented his legend in Ottawa while the Sens were on a road trip in Vancouver in Dec. 2019. Borowiecki, who was shopping for baby clothes, witnessed a thief breaking into a car and stopped the robbery.
Like Borowiecki, Matt Carkner endeared himself to Ottawa fans as a local boy from the Valley who played an honest and tough game.
Carkner is from the small town of Winchester, ON, about 30 miles south of Ottawa. He had 11 points and 190 penalty minutes in 2010-11. His big moment, however, came in the playoffs, when he rifled a slapshot from the point past Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Sens a triple-overtime game-winner in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The following year, Carkner was suspended in the playoffs for fighting Brian Boyle, who was unwilling to fight. Carkner was retaliating for an incident that happened in the previous game when Boyle sucker-punched Erik Karlsson in the face.
Methot was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Foligno, and the Ottawa native immediately became a fan favorite because of his leadership and the rapport he built with fans on and off the ice.
Methot was a stay-at-home defender who played with Erik Karlsson when he won the Norris Trophy. The legend of his grit and leadership grew in the 2016-17 season. Late in the regular season, he had his pinky severed on a slash from Sidney Crosby. Methot had his finger repaired, and he returned for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Growing up a stone’s throw away from the Canadian Tire Centre in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, White played four seasons with the Senators in the early 2000s. Like Borowiecki, White played in the CJHL and then played college hockey at Clarkson University. He worked his way into the NHL as an undrafted free agent.
White had two 20-goal seasons with Ottawa, scoring 25 in 2002-03 before adding another five in 18 playoff games that year. After the 2004-05 lockout, they traded him to the Minnesota Wild.
White became more popular in Ottawa after he played because of his work on TSN 1200 radio. He is also a fixture in the Ottawa minor hockey community as a coach.
York grew up in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean and spent five seasons with his hometown team. He was a steady, two-way defenceman who set the team’s record for most shots on goal in a game, with 10.
Like Todd White, York became more popular locally for his post-career work as a hockey broadcaster. He was a daytime personality of TSN 1200 radio, and also became a television analyst with SportsNet and then Hockey Night in Canada.
York owns and operates the Kemptville 73s junior hockey team of the CJHL. He purchased the team from former teammate Ron Tugnutt.
Ceci, who grew up in Orleans, was already a fan favourite in Ottawa before being a Senators’ first-round draft pick in 2012. He spent four seasons with the Ottawa 67s of the OHL and established himself as one of the top defencemen in Canadian junior hockey.
Ceci was a steady defenceman throughout his career in Ottawa and was a big part of the team’s 2016-17 playoff run. Ceci was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1, 2019. His 440 career games with the Senators are most among any Ottawa-raised player.
Richardson was able to finish his playing career with his hometown team, as Ottawa was the last of the six NHL clubs he played for. He retired early in the 2008-09 season and was hired by the Senators as an assistant coach that season.
In 2010, tragedy struck the Richardson family, as Richardson’s daughter Daron took her own life. The Richardson family created Do It For Daron, a campaign to raise funds and awareness for the prevention of teen suicide.
Because of their work in the community, Richardson and his family are beloved in the Ottawa area.
Calling Duchene an Ottawa guy is a borderline stretch, as he is from Haliburton, which is about a two-hour drive west of Ottawa. His wife is from Cornwall, which is about an hour southeast of Ottawa. However, when he arrived in Ottawa, he immediately did and said the right things to endear himself as a local to Sens fans.
Duchene’s family and in-laws went to many games in Ottawa, and Duchene’s father actually once snowmobiled to a game at Canadian Tire Centre to avoid bad roads during a snowstorm. Duchene also bonded with fans after picking up a guitar and jamming with local country bands after games.
Like Pageau, Brassard grew up across the river in Gatineau. Although he spent less than two seasons with the Senators, he was a fan favourite, especially among the Gatineau fans at the arena.
Brassard was a big part of the Sens’ 2016-17 playoff run. After collecting 39 points in the regular season, he had 11 points in 19 playoff games and was a solid two-way centre and faceoff man.
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While Ottawa has been home to some of hockey’s greatest players – Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Steve Yzerman and Bobby Smith are among the NHL legends who grew up in or around the Ottawa area – not all have had the opportunity to play for their hometown team. Gudbranson is now a Senator, and Sens fans and management are hoping he is a player who will take his place among the team’s all-time hometown heroes.
Jeff Morris has been a hockey writer for more than 30 years. He began his career working for small town newspapers in Eastern Ontario before becoming the editor of Canadian Sports Collector magazine in St. Catharines, ON. While there, he also freelanced as a Buffalo Sabres beat writer. Morris would move on to Dallas to become the NHL brand manager at Pinnacle Brands, Inc. From there, he worked in the sports trading card and collectibles division at Shop At Home TV in Nashville and Denver, and then moved to Seattle to be the VP of Marketing at Pacific Trading Cards, Inc. in Seattle. He had continued to cover the NHL as a freelance writer, and while in Seattle, he became a weekly hockey columnist for ESPN.com. During the 2005 NHL lockout, he returned to Ottawa and became a newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, and was also an NHL contributor for Fox Sports Radio. He also began covering the NHL for Hockeyology.com, and also covered the Ottawa Senators for his own publications. He went to Carleton University to study journalism, and graduated as the school’s all-time scoring leader in football and was a conference all-star three times. He had several pro tryouts and played semi-pro football for 10 years while pursuing his career as an NHL writer. He remains involved in football as a coach and referee, and is a Canadian Football League off-field official.