At one point, in its heyday, the “Battle of Ontario” was a highlight of any Senators season. The big city Maple Leafs, with their years of tradition against the small market Senators, planted smack dab between two of the leagues’ legendary cities, Montreal and Toronto.
What started out as a bit of a weird rivalry (because the teams were in different conferences for the first six years of Ottawa’s existence) really took hold in the 2000 season when they met in the playoffs for the first time. Toronto won that series, and again eliminated the Senators in 3 of the next 4 seasons.
The playoff series’ further fuelled the Leafs’ superiority complex, although they didn’t do much after eliminating the Sens in any of those years. The Leafs had players that Sens fans loved to hate…Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson, Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Bryan McCabe, Owen Nolan and perhaps the most hated individual, coach Pat Quinn. Toronto had issues with Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil and Marian Hossa among others as the teams met on a regular basis.
However, since the lockout the rivalry has slowly waned. As the players like Sundin, Roberts, Tucker and Domi moved on, the Leafs became less hated to play against. The fan bases still have their rivalry but the teams on the ice seem to have lost their utter distaste for each other. Matt Carkner still had his fight with Colton Orr every game, but the utter disgust the teams had for each other is gone. There is really nobody to hate on the Leafs. Phil Kessel? Sure, but he is more like a loveable loser. He doesn’t inspire my ire too much. Dion Phaneuf? Again, he doesn’t have enough personality to rally against. Colton Orr? He has done well to bring his game to the NHL level, but I couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. Leo Komarov has the Darcy Tucker type mentality but he has never played against the Senators.
The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, so they haven’t been able to renew acquaintances in the post-season in order to find a way to re-build the hatred.
The biggest Sens-Leafs news has been the fact that the Senators are encouraging their ticket holders to avoid re-selling their seats to Leafs fans in order to “take back the Bank’ in an effort to make sure Sens home games feel like Sens home games. Of course, Toronto media got ahold of this and the plan might just backfire. We will see next week when the Sens host the Leafs in the second installment of the Battle of Ontario after tonight’s first round. And then this happened today, as tweeted by James Gordon of the Ottawa Citizen
So this happened… twitter.com/SensReporter/s…
— James Gordon (@SensReporter) February 16, 2013
Can the off-ice rivalry replace on-ice hatred and bring the Battle of Ontario back to the level it was in the early 2000′s? Not likely. It is still a highlight of the season whenever the two teams meet, but until the next time they lock horns in the post-season, the battle will just be a shell of what it once was.