Blind faith in Senators

MARK BONOKOSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

It has been more than 10 years since last benched by injury, but who would expect the lens implanted in the left eye to replace the one clouded over by a wayward hockey stick during a beer-league tourney would suddenly dislocate and require emergency surgery?

But, two weeks ago, there I was nonetheless, lying unconscious in an operating theatre at Toronto Western Hospital while vitreoretinal surgeon Dr. Robert Devenyi carved open the eye, cleaned up the debris and replaced the wonky lens with a newer model.

I see him this morning for an update, the operative word, of course, being "see."

Instead of being firmly planted on a stool in a sports bar as my Ottawa Senators dispatched the Buffalo Sabres four games to one to secure a berth in the Stanley Cup final for the first time in their modern history, I was frustratingly confined to a bed in a darkened room, listening to the game on a television that was too painful to watch for more than a one-minute shift every 10 minutes or so.

So I would lie there like I was a kid again, reliving out of necessity those days when I was sent off to bed at my parents' orders, and secretly listened to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the radio.

Ah, the Leafs.

BALLARD'S GHOST

Unfortunately, Harold Ballard has not been dead long enough to merit my return. His ghost, in fact, is only a 17-year-old teenager, and the memory of what he did to a once-proud franchise still relatively young and driven by anger.

That, plus the fact the current Leafs owners appear to accept, if not endorse, the current team's ineptitude because the Leaf Nation continues to fill the Air Canada Centre with both their butts and their bucks.

But count me out of that crowd.

I happened to be the newish editor of the Sun when the modern Senators landed in the capital in 1992, and I took to them like a fish to water, and not just because they would bring a modicum of excitement to an otherwise dull white-collar town, as well as sell newspapers during Ottawa's nine months of winter.

It was finally a way to exorcise Harold Ballard.

At the beginning, the Senators played in the Civic Centre in downtown Ottawa, right next to the football stadium. To say it was intimate would be an understatement. But it sure was a lot of fun.

A perky teenager named Alanis Morissette sang the national anthem, not opera-sized OPP cop Lyndon Slewidge, but this was before Alanis got both angry and famous -- before You Oughta Know and Jagged Little Pill. She'd sing the national anthem and hang around the Sun box.

Now look at her.

And now look at the Senators -- Stanley Cup-bound against either the Detroit Red Wings or the Anaheim Ducks.

I feel sorry for Leafs fans, I really do. But I cannot understand the reason for their loyalty considering how they have been used and abused for so many years.

What have the Leafs done since winning the Stanley Cup in 1967, other than take the money and run?

The Senators, on the other hand, have had their share of hard times both on and off the ice, in team performance when the going got tough, and in team ownership when the money ran out.

But they hung in, and took a U-turn in the front office that the Leafs have refused to take. They invested their fans' money, and owner Eugene Melnyk's money, in hopes of a better return on the dollar by way of a better team.

They let man-mountain all-star defenceman Zdeno Chara -- who, if not overrated was certainly overplayed -- bolt for Boston as a free agent and they got the kind of defence that could hold the potent Buffalo Sabres to 15 shots on net to go up three games to zip.

Hell, the Senators' Anton Volchenkov seems to block more shots in one period than the Leafs' Andrew Raycroft does in one game. And Raycroft's a goaltender, although arguably not of the quality to be an NHL starter any more than Patrick Lalime was back in the Sens' dismal years.

The Sens' current No. 1 netminder, Ray Emery, a Hamilton (Cayuga) lad no less, has silenced the critics with his play between the pipes, with most of those critics being the Leaf fans who haven't tasted victory for 40 years, much less another visit to the finals.

So it was good seeing the Leafs sitting out the entire playoffs this year, especially after what their sad-sack lot did to the much more talented Senators team in recent playoff years -- not once, not twice, but four miserable times, only to fold like the cheap tent they are.

Those two unbelievably lame goals that then-Leaf Joe Nieuwendyk scored on Lalime three years ago to take Game 7? Pu-leeee-ze!

VANDALS

It was also the same year, by the by, that vandals at a north Toronto mall obliterated the Senators' logo on my licence plates with eggs, as well as most of my car -- all this coming the morning after the night the Senators lost their first game at home when Leaf goaltender Ed Belfour stood on his head (again) and shut down the Senators 2-zip.

The Leafs sitting out, therefore, is almost just deserts.

Tonight's game, of course, could decide who the Sens will face for the Stanley Cup. Let's hope that Detroit will not prevail, even if it will create more buzz than a series against the Ducks.

There are two reasons for not wanting Detroit. One is Red Wings netminder Dominik Hasek, who as a Senator in 2006, left an Olympic round-robin game with an adductor injury while playing for his Czech homeland, missed the remainder of the Olympics, the NHL regular season and the playoffs, and is now suddenly back to being the Dominator of old, and vying to beat the Senator team that brung'm.

The second reason is Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi, a bushwhacking goon who doesn't deserve to be wearing an NHL uniform of any kind, let alone be in the Stanley Cup final with a shot at wearing a Stanley Cup ring on the same hand he used to brutally pummel Steve Moore's career to an end.

Harold Ballard, by the by, will be 104 on July 30.


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