Sens owner maintains optimism

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Eugene Melnyk and his gang with the Senators will have their hands full filling empty seats this season it seems after the first less-than-capacity home opener in about a half-dozen years at Scotiabank Place.

The Senators owner knows there’s work to do, since missing the playoffs and having the debacle with Diminished Dany Heatley meant most of the news was as bad as the weather this summer.

That hasn’t diminished Melnyk’s enthusiasm for either his team or the Ottawa sports marketplace.

Melnyk has been following the Lansdowne Live debate and told Sun Media before Thursday night’s game he is still interested in building a stadium in Kanata if the proposal for Lansdowne isn’t approved by the city.

Council chose the Lansdowne Live proposal to revitalize Frank Clair Stadium and Lansdowne Park over Melnyk’s pitch to building a 20,000-seat soccer stadium across the street from Scotiabank Place, along with retail and residential infrastructure similar to that proposed for the Lansdowne Park footprint.

After concluding the public consulation period, the Lansdowne Live proposal is expected to go to a vote before city council early next month, though there’s a legal challenge out there questioning the sole sourcing of the proposal.

Insiders also say the vociferous criticism at the public consultations has frightened faint-of-heart councillors and the vote could be closer than anticipated. Not to mention this council has been apallingly indecisive. Councillors apparently don’t think they were elected to show leadership.

“I’ll talk to anyone, any time. Everybody knows my phone number and my e-mail,” said Melnyk. “I’ll talk to anyone if it benefits the city and 60,000 soccer fans and registered players. I still think what we proposed is viable, exciting and vibrant.”

When asked last night if his proposal could incorporate a CFL franchise into the equation, the sports centrepiece of the Lansdowne Live proposal, Melnyk said: “Almost a whole new discussion would have to take place, but my door is always open if people want to talk.”

There might have been plently of legroom in the bowl at Scotiabank Place, but it was standing room only at the new Bert’s Bar before the home opener last night where Melnyk held court.

Bert’s has taken over the space where the late, great Marshy’s used to be and Melnyk was there with his buddy Bert Inniss — the Barbados’ barkeep whose name the bar borrows — and the gang of usual suspects for ribbon cutting ceremonies in these parts.

There was optimism among the metal palm trees in Bert’s that typically precedes a team’s home opener — there’s still plenty of reason to think all the questions will be answered in the Senators’ favour, right? — and Melnyk can serve up optimism like Bert can pour daiquiris.

Melnyk said he had a good idea of what the size of the crowd would be. It was 1,078 shy of a sellout.

Lost the ‘distraction’

“I was looking out the window of my hotel and people are still playing golf. Give me that first snowfall,” he said. “It’s not unexpected. We’re coming off an off-season full of distractions. We got rid of the distraction.”

Melnyk spent Tuesday night’s game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto sitting beside Senators GM Bryan Murray and remains his team’s biggest fan. “What we need now is everybody to play up to their potential. If that happens, we’l be as competitive as any team in the league,” he said.

Melnyk said he visited the Ottawa dressing room before last night’s game and is convinced this edition of the Senators will have character.

He said the Heatley situation was a distraction and “we got rid of the distraction.”

“I’ll take a winning attitude over somebody who can score 50 goals 10 times over,” said Melnyk. “We’re now a real team. Give us a few games and people will see we’re the real deal. We’ll get that swagger together again.”

Some fans, apparently, are waiting to see.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos