It's still a good old hockey game for Sens fans

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:49 PM ET

Even in a lost season, it's still the good old hockey game.

It's still an event.

It's still a great time.

The centre-ice video board shows a fan wearing a Senators jersey and a paper bag over head. Some jokes just never get old.

In section 119, where goal line meets boards to the right of the Senators' goalie for two periods, sits a group of 20 rowdies. They are wearing Sabres jerseys and Fred Flintstone-like water Buffalo hats. One is also wearing a goalie's mask. His name is Farhang Farid.

Farhang and friends were in the same section for a Sabres-Senators game when misfortune struck last season. A shot (believed to be from the stick of Sabres defenceman Henrik Tallinder) was deflected by a Senator (believed to be Daniel Alfredsson) and hit Farhang in the face, breaking his jaw.

This time he was taking no chances.

The group of 20 calls itself "The Heard." The members came together as students at the University of Windsor. Now they are dispersed all over the country. Last night was their annual pilgrimage to Scotiabank Place.

In support of co-ordinator Ian West, they came from Calgary, Vancouver, Nova Scotia, Windsor, Barrie ... for hockey, beer and laughs.

"My mom, Linda West, lives in Buffalo, and I was raised as a Sabres fan," explains Ian, who lives in the nation's capital and is articling at a law firm. "My buddies say, 'we can't let you cheer by yourself.'

"Ottawa treats us really well."

The Heard gathers in the parking lot outside the arena for a tailgate party and a few hours of road hockey. It retreats to Marshy's around 5 p.m. for more food and drink. Then it rolls in to SBP a good 45 minutes before the opening faceoff.

Once at its seats, the 'Let's Go Buffalo' chants begin.

"We like these seats because we can heckle the Ottawa goalie," says Ian West. "Last year, we were all over (Ray) Emery. Tonight it will be Brian Elliott. We'll be shouting, 'Elliott phone home' and stuff like that. We'll be yelling, 'no playoffs for you, (Jason) Spezza blew it for you."

Just then the Senators step on the ice for the pre-game skate. The Heard spots Jarkko Ruutu, who took a chomp on the thumb of Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters the last time these teams met.

"Bite me, Ruutu," the Heard yells at Jarkko.

"The Senators are my second-favourite team, but they haven't played with a lot of heart," says West. "Alfredsson is a great player, but he hasn't been a good captain. He leads by example, but he's not keeping guys responsible, he's not holding them accountable."

Ottawa fans and The Heard try to outdo each other, cheering, laughing, giving each other the gears and enjoying the prelude to an NHL game.

The Senators have just 15 more at Scotiabank Place this season. They may not win a whole lot of them, but that shouldn't stop you from coming out and having a good time.

Starts and stops

Not so affectionately becoming known as the Dany Heatley Fly By (DHFB), No. 15 committed one on his very first shift of the night. As a leader, Heatley might want to consider setting a tone by actually finishing a check early in the game. Just a thought .... Sabres enforcer Peters was a healthy scratch, which denied him the opportunity of trying to poke Ruutu's teeth out with his thumb again. Not that he would have. "The league already took care of it," Peters said, referring to Ruutu's two-game suspension. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a dead issue." ... Peters admitted his wife suggested he get a rabbies shot, but that was likely a joke. He said Ruutu's teeth did not cut through his glove. "Took me a little while to get back to texting." ... Suddenly, the Senators' best line features Mike Fisher between Nick Foligno and Ryan Shannon. Go figure.

Between periods

Poor Mike Hasenfratz. He was the only one in the building who didn't see Antoine Vermette's second-period shot go off the back bar of Ryan Miller's net. And, as the ref at that end of the ice, he was the closest to it. Hasenfratz immediately waived off the goal and play continued for some time until the shot could be reviewed. That gave the Senators a good chance to become the first team to score twice on the same shift, which would have not only been something, but something extra, considering they are the NHL's lowest-scoring club ... Couldn't have been more than 1,000 fans taking advantage of the Senators' first open-to-the-public morning skate, which they will have every Saturday home game the rest of the season ... This is a "shout out" to Ray Emery, who the rumour mill has back in Ottawa these days. Peters made reference to you too, Rayzor. "The unforgettable line brawl," he said, recalling incidents in the Senators-Sabres rivalry. "First and last time I'll ever fight a goalie."

Things that make you go hmmm...

Did you choke on your cornflakes yesterday morning at the local broadsheet's evaluation of Senators' roster moves, specifically the "thumbs down" to the signing of Brendan Bell? Are you kidding me? Never mind that the guy has four goals, which is tied for ninth on the team, and that one was a second last-minute winner. Bell, who has played 27 games with the Senators, was signed to a two-way contract. Anything he does at the NHL level is a bonus. Unbelievable. Just another good reason to stick with this paper.

The bottom line

Peters on fighting, and any thoughts of trying to remove it from the game. "Fighting is a part of hockey. It always will be. There's an entertainment value in it. It's a tough sport, and there's a lot of skill stars who need to be protected. We know what we sign up for when we go out there. We know what's at stake. It just shows a level of competitiveness as well, what guys are willing to do to win. I think fans appreciate that. We go out there and sacrifice our bodies to try and win, and entertain the fans, and make the game a better game, a cleaner game. Fans stand up for a goal, but every fan stands up when there's a fight. The loudest I've seen the rinks in Florida is when there's a fight going on. When you think of hockey, you think of a tough game where guys are willing to do anything to win. It's as simple as that."

Hear, hear.


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