The game was a combination of the departure of the chief and the beginning of a new era in the history of Ottawa senators.
Eugene Melanick, who has been the owner of the senators for nearly two decades, was remembered at a ceremony before the senators’ first home game after Melanick’s death last Monday. To complete the Detroit vs. home-and-home sweep, the owner was duly honored with a 5-2 win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
The Josh Norris hat-trick, the senator’s second three-goal effort in a row in these two games against Detroit (Matthew Joseph had three on Friday), marked a break on a thrilling afternoon at almost the entire Canadian Tire Center. Norris says he hasn’t scored a hat-trick since his Pew hockey days.
As fans walk through the Arena parking lot, they aim flags at half-mast to pay their respects to Melanick, to meet boxes of bizarre gift items before heading to the gate – ‘Happy New Year’ hats and making noise. Melonick himself got a smile for cleaning those weird times and storage closets.
The music was preceded by a steadily more terrifying salute to the scoreboard screen, a four-minute visual trip down memory lane during the 19 years of franchise ownership with Melnick. The most touching moment was a scene with Melnick and her two daughters in the months following Melnick’s 2015 liver transplant surgery, as the daughter, Anna and Olivia, thanked senator fans for saving their father’s life.
In fact, it was an anonymous senator fan who donated the lever, after a very public search to find a donor, launched by then-senator president and co-founder of the franchise, Cyril Lidar.
The Melanic video features an empty Melonic chair in her suit, and one of her favorite sayings, featuring “Carpe Dime,” has been loosely translated to “capture the day.”
Ottawa players did just that in front of 16,402, the second-largest crowd of the season on Sunday. The biggest came last weekend, 17,201, so the trend is positive.
According to Senator Head Coach DJ Smith, Ottawa players were more aware of the situation in Sunday’s game.
“Mr. Melnick put his heart and soul into this organization to keep Ottawa,” Smith said. “His vision was to bring these young people together and build them around them. The players have an exciting team.
“It’s unfortunate he didn’t come here to see it, but we’re going to do what we can (to see it) and I think winning that game tonight was special. Just honoring him and being able to leave a winning building on his night is special.
As the players celebrate as the game ends, the scoreboard again displays the empty chair in the Melonic suite.
“It was definitely an emotional tribute, and seeing the box come off the ice,” said captain Brady Takachuk. “We wanted to continue to do our best to honor Mr. Melnick and we felt we did – we were certainly happy with the result.”
“Ka-ching” for Norris
Norris, who hit the 30-goal mark in just his 52nd game of the season, is on a new contract as a pending limited free agent this summer.
“Every time you go in, Ka-ching,” Takachuk said with a smile.
“It simply came to our notice then. She’s hot now. So every time he touches Pak, he gets a chance to go inside, ”said Tkachuk.
According to Norris, he is driving a wave of confidence.
“I take it with me through play,” Norris said. “When you’re scoring, and playing with good players, it makes your job a little easier.”
It will take some time to sort out the Norris deal this summer, and hopefully before the training camp, in contrast to last fall’s Tkachuk situation.
It will also take time to resolve the ownership situation, and allow the league, the team’s board of directors, and Ottawa supporters to do it properly with all the time needed.
The NHL has all hinted that it wants to improve a strong and stable senatorial body in Ottawa, and especially in a new arena that could be built in the Leberton Flats near Parliament House (SportsNet’s Elliott Friedman discusses this in a 32 Thoughts podcast this week).
What can fans do in the interim?
With deeper determination, continue to support the right to vote.
In an interview with Ben Ennis and Stephen Brant on their SportsNet Fan 590 podcast, TVA reporter Renaud Lavoie commented on the senators and discussed playing a few home games in Quebec City next season.
The story was leaked ahead of schedule – Lavoie suggested the leak was designed to sabotage the idea, to buy a team at a discount from a team – and the five-game Quebec City trial probably won’t happen now. But Lavois noted that the idea of relocating his home games to another city to raise revenue was a “wake-up call” for senator fans. Remember that Lavoy worked in Ottawa for the RDS, covering senators in the late 1990s. He knows the market.
This next chapter for senators is an opportunity for fans to rejoin a group they have probably taken.
For now, Melnick’s daughters will run the franchise with the board of directors until it decides what is the best long-term plan for senators.
Sunday’s salute to Melnick, in a festive, triumphant atmosphere, represents a first page flip.