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Fans React As 67's Move From Bank Street to 'The Bank'

by Alex Quevillon
The 67’s are rarely aggressive buyers at the trade deadline and as such, there’s rarely a “need to win this season” mentality amongst Ottawa fans. Even if the 67’s don’t win it all, there’s usually assurance that the next year will also be a good one. This year may be an exception. Not only because the team was a buyer at the deadline, but because many fans will be unable to follow the team next year and want to get their money’s worth this year. It's official. The 67's arena will be tweaked and the area prodded and upgraded. Despite season ticket holders being told that the upgrades would be done around the arena with no effect on the team’s current whereabouts, the team will be moved out for two-to-three years.

For the first time since 1992-93 season, the 67's and Senators will share a building, and for the first time since 1967-1968, the 67's will not be calling the Landsdowne arena their home. Their 1968 home, Gatineau's Robert Guertin Arena, as well as their affiliate Nepean Raider's Sportsplex were both deemed slightly too small to play host and as such, the team will move out to the suburbs, calling Scotiabank Place home until 2014. Or 2015. Depending which report you believe.

Some fans do view this as a positive, however. After all, the current arena has to be refurbished. Games cannot continue to be played while debris falls from the roof and birds are able to sneak into the arena. On February 17th, the 67’s had to postpone a game against Peterborough because of a leaking roof. For lack of a better term, it’s a mess. Furthermore, the attached football field just looks like a waste of space right now. But at the end of the day, a big issue is retaining the current fanbase. Will casual fans still head out to Kanata to watch Junior Hockey? More than that, will diehard fans even still attend the games? I was able to speak to a number of season ticket holders who had varying opinions on the topic.

One way or another, playing in an NHL facility will offer a totally different experience in the stands. After attending Junior events in Kanata in the past, season ticket holder Tyler Peterson found that the larger arena's spacious design, especially at the 100 level, puts a new emphasis on the attendees. "Here (at Landsdowne) it’s more crowded and people are closer to each other so it’s more a family atmosphere. At Scotiabank Place it’s going to feel more individual." When asked if he was going to renew his season's tickets, the avid fan responded "probably not. I'll head out to a couple of the Western Conference games, but not that many. Attendance will go down tremendously for the next couple of years I find.”

Craig Shouldice, a season ticket holder in Section 20 for 36 years, wasn’t surprised by the news. “The 67’s need an indoor venue capable of handling 10,000+ and there aren’t that many around.” Craig and his wife Janet have been to several 67’s events in Kanata, and were able to make a few key observations. “The atmosphere was very muted and I don’t think the team benefitted from a momentum point of view. The Bank needs a crowd of 15,000+ to get rolling. We went to the World Juniors in 2009 and it was the size of the crowd and the noise that lifted the team. We’ve been to 13 Memorial Cups, in small arenas and large arenas. Big venues with big crowds make for an event, but smaller crowds in a big venue can get lost. This may test the ardour of the Ottawa fans.”

As inconvenient as the drive may be for these diehards, Shouldice added “we certainly will (renew season’s tickets). We started attending 67’s games religiously in 1975. We spent our first day together as husband and wife, watching the 1977 Memorial Cup final game (on TV) between Ottawa and New Westminster. It’s been a fixture of our lives ever since.”

An argument is being made that if you don’t follow the team to Kanata, you aren’t a ‘real fan’. So who better to ask than Ian McSorely, who won the BMO contest as the 67’s Ultimate Fan last month, what his thoughts are? I caught up with him and he explained that he would only be buying his seat, instead of the dual-seats he has now for the team. After Year One at the new arena, he will re-evaluate whether or not to keep attending games. “The atmosphere here (at Landsdowne), it’s great. You’re encouraged to make noise here, whether the team’s winning or losing. I’m a little bit leery as to what we can get away with at Scotiabank Place.” He continued by saying that “it’s like playing away games for the next two years. People are looking at you sometimes, like ‘why are you making noise?’ So it’s something we’ll have to get used to.”

I was also able to get in touch with a few fans from lower sections 5 and 6, better known as "The Asylum". This group of superfans have become a part of the team's image. When an opposing team hits the ice, this small section, wielding drums, cymbals and noisemakers, are likely the first people you see and/or hear. They are a huge part of this fanbase, in the opinion of many, and whether or not they make the move with the team is a big issue.

“It’s not the greatest idea,” says Jesse Dupuis. “They’re going to lose a lot of money out there, it’s a lot of travelling. Even if there are buses running, if you miss your bus, you’ve got no way out there. Or after a game, you’re going to be stranded out there. It’s just going to create a lot of problems; they’re going to lose a lot of season ticket holders. I’ve been there when they had the playoffs out there and I think the atmosphere sucks. It’s too big, there are a lot of empty seats, everyone’s scattered all over, and it’s echoing everywhere you go. It’s just not the place for Junior Hockey”

Sophie Desrosiers wasn’t happy at first. “It’s really not convenient. I come from the East End, I take the bus. It’s a hassle. I guess we don’t really have much of a choice but to accept it. I kind of knew it was coming, so we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got.” Each of these two interviewees were undecided about renewing season’s tickets next season.

Gerry Horvath is also wary about the kind of home that Scotiabank Place will be to the Barberpoles, but is willing to give it a chance. “I didn’t like it at first because it’s not a Junior Hockey barn at all; it’s a really bad atmosphere. But I think maybe within two years we could make it a home atmosphere for us. I probably will be renewing it for sure next year. I’ll put the $50 deposit to see the seat, and if I like the seat I’ll just pay it all off. I’ll give it a try, that’s all you can do.”

Of the asylum members, Tim Coates was the most adamant that this shouldn’t cause any problems for the team, stating that as a fan who has been to every 67’s game in Kanata in the past ten years, “it isn’t my favourite place to be, I’d rather have the games here, but if they’re renovating this place, (Scotiabank Place) is the only other place that can support our fanbase. We can’t play at Carleton University, or anywhere else, it just can’t support our fans.”

When asked if Gatineau was a viable option, he said “Not with the Olympiques, I don’t think it would work in Gatineau, but if that’s where it was I’d be out there too. Wherever the team goes.” I asked if he would be renewing his season’s tickets, as I asked all interviewees, but Tim was the most sure of his commitments for next season. “Absolutely. 100 percent. All of a sudden, everyone’s looking for the free handouts. ‘They should be doing this for me, they should be doing that for me. I need lower ticket prices, I need free parking’, and I don’t know, it’s not that big of a deal.”

A large portion of the viewing area at the current arena is wheelchair accessible, and those fans may not be provided the same convenience that they receive now. Sally Thomas, a season ticket holder on the south side of the arena, was willing to speak on behalf of many other fans that require the wheelchair access at the games.

“My reaction was surprise, and disappointment. It would’ve been nice if they’d been able to consider the Robert Guertin Arena in Hull. Much easier to get to. Scotiabank is just way too far, I use a chair to live and I use Para Transpo to get around. I used to work there when it was still called the Corel Centre, and I would spend two hours getting to work there for a four-hour shift. I don’t see it being any different.”

"I’ve been to, probably three of them (67's games in Kanata) and I didn’t enjoy myself. It was too far away. The wheelchair seating at Scotiabank Place is not very accessible, it’s too far away. The stands look empty even when it’s 8,000 fans. There’s no atmosphere. The seating is not the same. (Personally), I just graduated from college, so I’m starting a career and making some money. I’m not going to spend my limited funds going out there."

There are fans, as I mentioned, who are remaining as positive as possible during this situation. A pair of fans that I spoke to are really embracing this, seeing it as a new opportunity to help expand the market for this team. "Scotiabank Place is alright, there’s a lot of a fanbase there. Some of the Sens season ticket holders will probably get tickets for the 67’s there now, so if they do that then it’s good for the 67’s ‘cause we’re gonna have more fans," says Andrew Hazard, a season ticket holder in section 26. "I remember when we played St. Mikes (in Kanata), it was actually pretty good too we had a lot of fans from St. Mikes that came out too.”

Chris Trudeau, another optimistic fan, was excited that the 67’s would be moving to Scotiabank Place next season. He continued, saying “I attended game 1 against Sudbury last season but that game was on a Saturday afternoon, compared to a Friday night, so I think the 67's will have more fans on Fridays at The Bank instead of Sundays just like they do at the Civic Center. Ottawa always says they have the best hockey fans in the O(HL), so we will see how many actually go. 67's fans shouldn't be complaining. They should use these next two seasons as a challenge to prove to the OHL that they have the best fans and they are willing to fill an NHL arena.”

The biggest issue, especially for non-drivers such as myself, is the transportation. Even right now, OC Transpo isn’t reliable on game nights in Kanata. OC Transpo has agreed to go along with the new arrangement, but how long will that last, and how good will the service be? For those of you who remember the Ottawa Loggers (I’m barely old enough to remember them), when they moved from Civic Center to the then-Corel Centre, OC Transpo made the same sort of agreement to send fans to the games. Four games into their inaugural season in Kanata, they abruptly halted bus service without any advance notice to fans.

Does public transportation, or possible lack thereof, really play a big role in this move? If you recall, most games in Kanata sold out during the 2009 World Juniors, while OC Transpo was on strike. But we all know how so many fans are. People in this country tend to love the U-20 championships but then totally ignore Junior Hockey the other 49 weeks of the year. If OC Transpo drops out of the agreement again, do they have enough fan support to keep bringing enough people out? Will anybody go to Kanata for a Sunday afternoon or weekday game? We’ll have to wait and see.

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