On an ice surface tucked into the back of the Bell Sensplex, at precisely 11:50 a.m. Tuesday, the sound of a Zamboni horn cuts through the chatter.
Nine skaters and two goalies scurry off the ice. In 10 minutes, a group of everyday people will occupy the ice. There is no stroke, no rockstar clout for locked-out NHLers here.
Posters on the rink wall serve as reminders of great moments in Senators history: Steve Duchesne’s goal in 1997 to send the Senators to the playoffs for the first time, Chris Phillips’ overtime goal in the 2003 playoffs vs. New Jersey, the first goal in modern-day Senators history (by Neil Brady) in 1992 and Phillips belting superpest Darcy Tucker to the ice in 2002.
With a handful of observers and the shriek of John Chabot’s whistle interrupting the solitude every now and then, it’s really become same old, same old. While the opportunity to play hockey in Europe while the NHL and NHLPA whittle away at their differences has attracted some of those who were skating in Ottawa, others continue to show up at the rink a few times a week.
Guys like Chris Kelly are waiting and hoping.
Kelly, the former Senators centre who is now a key player for the Boston Bruins, is getting quality time at home with wife Krissy, one-year-old daughter Evynn and two-year-old daughter Presley. And while hockey is what he does, getting to be a full-time daddy right now brings a smile to his face.
“I’m sure my wife appreciates the extra set of hands around the house,” he said. “My youngest, the last few weeks she’s really started to walk more and more. And my two-year-old is talking non-stop. She’s almost like a parrot. My wife’s friend was over and everything she said, my daughter repeated it.”
The Kellys have been a couple since junior hockey. She’s seen him go from the United Hockey League to the American Hockey League to the NHL. It’s been a grind, but it’s paid off, with Kelly getting plenty of support from his other half.
When the players were last locked out, in 2004-05, Kelly was busting his butt in Binghamton, landing with the Senators the following season to stay.
“Back in 2004, I remember thinking we had a great team in Binghamton,” said Kelly. “I was thinking how fortunate I was to be playing there. I hope the guys there now look at it that way and take it positively. They’re getting a chance to get better. Spezz (Jason Spezza) led the American league in scoring, and I’m not sure he looks at it this way, but it helped his career.”
Kelly is hopeful all will be back to normal soon.
“Everyone’s optimistic a fair deal will get struck,” he said. “Maybe if the lockout goes into the new year, then people will be singing a different tune.
“Money is seldom brought up. Right now, it’s all about playing. If you can take something out of this, it makes you realize how much you like playing the game. Everyone wants to play hockey. That’s the bottom line.”
Unfortunately the only playing he can do right now is scrimmages with a dwindling number of teammates ... and some quality time with his daughters.
And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.