The Away Fan Experience

After weeks of planning and months of saving I was finally able last week to do something that I’ve wanted to do for years, be an away fan at a Canucks game. The opportunity arose when my girlfriend decided that she wanted to go home to Ottawa for a week. I thought I’d look into what games the Senators were playing around the time we planned to visit. To my surprise and delight the Canucks were playing in Ottawa November 11. This was an opportunity that could not be missed. I broke out my credit card and called my brother living in Toronto, "We’re going to a Canucks game."

I first worried that tickets in groups of three would be hard to come by with only a month’s notice. Luckily unlike our Canucks it seems the Sens don’t sell out every night, this despite a President’s Trophy and Stanley Cup Final appearance this decade. I opted for print at home tickets so nothing would be trusted to fate or Canada Post and bought three tickets. I got seats between the blue line and centre ice half way up the top tier of Scotiabank Place. I checked online prices for equivalent Canucks tickets and IF you can find them they’d be at least $71 a piece from what I understand on Ticketmaster. Tickets in Ottawa? $152 for all 3 including service fees, who says you have to go to Florida for cheap hockey tickets?

The way flights worked out I flew into Ottawa the afternoon of game day and my brother got to spend six hours enjoying the sights of Ottawa, on Remembrance Day. No prizes for guessing what he did. I was travelling to enemy territory I figured it was only proper that I fly the colours. I wore a Canucks long sleeve covered by a blue Luongo jersey and my Canucks cap, nothing this trip I swore was to be done in half measures. My girlfriend wore her Sens t shirt but that’s it, we know who has the best fans. Going through security one of the screeners caught onto what we were doing and questioned the longevity of a relationship between opposing fans. This would prove to be the beginning of a continuing theme, one of several that make attending the Canucks away a necessity for any fan.

The flight to Ottawa was full and of course I was stuck with a centre seat, like I am now as I write this. Dressed as I was it was obvious to many what I was doing. After I confessed that I was indeed going to the Canucks game with my Senator fan girlfriend the gentleman beside me struck up a bit of a conversation, telling me he wasn’t going to this game but he’d been to several before and was actually picking up the team on the rest of the road trip his comments were well thought out and I realized I’d found a fellow fan, not someone who just regurgitated what they’d seen on Sportsnet the night before. I thought his travelling to several away games on the same road trip was the height of cool and felt somewhat one upped. That was until he showed me his press credentials and asked me if I read the Province. I’d managed on my first trip to an away game to get a seat next to Gord Macintyre sportswriter for the Province. Both awesome and fate or what?

I picked up my brother in the Airport, briefly met my girlfriend’s parents for the first time and the three of us going to the game struck out for the rink. Before even setting off we were getting into the car when a kid no more than 10 walked past and called out "Go Canucks Go! My third favorite team." Tingles and right through me. I’d noticed it in passing watching games on the TV but this was my first time living it, Canucks fans are everywhere and we can be anyone. It’s important to note for those not familiar with the placement of NHL arenas outside Vancouver that Scotiabank Place is somewhat outside Ottawa, not unlike putting Rogers Arena in Langley or Maple Ridge. We set off early to ensure that my directionally challenged girlfriend, who lived in Ottawa for 20 years I might add, could find her way. Lucky for us the arena is right off the highway and we found it no problem. With the arena found and our tickets triple checked we went in search of pregame nourishment.

My brother and I walked proudly into an Arby’s five minutes from Scotiabank Place, jerseys on full display and were greeted by two Canucks fans waiting in line. We discussed which jerseys were appropriate when supporting the away team. They were in favour of the retro look, he had the stick in rink jersey and she was sporting a pleasantly fitting black skate logo jersey, whereas my brother and I felt that the latest and greatest Reebok jerseys were in order to represent away. Their argument centered on the feeling that with the older jerseys you’ve been a fan forever. I felt that a new jersey said "even out here I went to the effort of getting a current jersey with a name on it." As we ate our dinner several groups of Senators fans came in, giving us the stink eye or shooting us bemused glances, secure in their teams small win streak and the promise of home ice advantage. This is what I had been looking for! Animosity and a chance to be that guy, the one you love to hate when he shows up at Rogers Arena sporting the away team’s jersey and acting like his team is the greatest. The only difference is I know our team is the greatest. The brief encounter at Arby’s invigorated me, like a sporting appetizer and helped to ease the small amount of trepidation I’d been harbouring, Canucks fans can be rather, overzealous, in their dislike of away fans. It seemed that Sens fans are wet blankets compared to Canucks fans.

After eventually finding our way back to Scotiabank Place, yes we got lost 5 minutes from the arena, we had to wait forever to park. I think that’s a serious advantage to putting an arena downtown, ample and dispersed parking. There was plenty of parking for everyone attending the game; the issue was there was really only a one lane road to get into the parking lots. This I suppose is a function of having your arena in the sticks, only one place to park and only one way to get there.

It was cold walking into the arena but, unlike Vancouver you are allowed inside the arena to what is akin to a foyer before you have to present your tickets. This stopped us from freezing and would be a welcome relief on all of the game nights in Vancouver when it pours and there is a line to get inside. In the line I was thanked by an Ottawa fan for helping support both the Senators and city of Ottawa by buying tickets to what was sure to be a blowout and humiliation. My brother and I replied with the quiet and smug "We’ll see" best used when outnumbered 20-1.

We found our seats and discovered a few more differences between Vancouver and Ottawa. First, Scotiabank Place is steep, really steep. You lean forwards and it feels like you’ll topple all the way down your section. There are no guard rails to stop you and make you feel safe this means though that there is also nothing for the obnoxious fan in front of you to lean on and block your view all game. Second, Ottawa trusts their fans more than we are trusted in Vancouver. You can buy tallboys of beer in cans inside the arena. If that was allowed in Vancouver I’m sorry to say it wouldn’t be five minutes before someone in the wrong jersey had been beaned in the head with a crushed can.

Once in my seats is set about looking for someone to banter with a bit, I mean that’s part of the fun of being an away fan right? Being "That Guy". My foil was found in the form of several rather attractive female Sens fans/puck bunnies who sat in front of us, complete with painted faces and pink jerseys. Friendly banter of "You picked the wrong team" and "Ready for an ass kicking?" passed back and forth between us all the way to 30 seconds after puck drop when Daniel Sedin opened the scoring. Nothing will both shutdown and rile up haughty home fans more than the away team scoring 30 seconds into a game. Beautiful. Middle fingers and high fives were alternately exchanged all around and I settled into the familiar rhythm of watching a hockey game.

The first period ended in a tie and I discovered another surprise about Ottawa and possibly a reason that their fans are so placid, they can still go and smoke between periods. My puck bunny adversaries scuttled off to grab a quick drag and left me to watch the inter-period entertainment. I’m used to what we get in Vancouver, entertaining video clips a short interview and some sort of fan competition or giveaway at ice level. I watched and wasn’t exactly sure at first what felt wrong as all the pieces of the show were there until my brother pointed it out. Production values. The entertainment, the videos and even the prize team on the ice was something I’d expect at a junior game or AHL game. The jumbotron reminded me of the one we had in Pacific Coliseum but with a colour screen and who ever heard of 50/50 tickets having a prize cap? I was sorely disappointed with the non hockey portion of the show that I saw in Ottawa. I looked into it and Scotiabank Place is actually a year newer than Rogers Arena so I suppose they need a refresh like the one we had a couple seasons ago. Soon.

The second period was nothing particularly special except for a couple spectacular saves made by Luongo. The chorus of "Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuu"s that rang out on every stop again reminded me that the Canucks have a strong presence everywhere. Canuck fans are loud and despite our numbers we managed to hold our own in the ongoing war of chants between us and Senator fans. "Go Sens Go" became truly muddled with "Go Canucks Go" As I said earlier, other fans are wet blankets compared to Canuck fans. This would be brought home with authority in the third.

I often accuse Canuck fans of being overly fickle and bandwagon jumpers, this isn’t to say we aren’t, but what I saw in Ottawa made me realize that maybe we aren’t the worst out there. The score was 6-1 for Vancouver with five minutes to go in the game and looking around Canucks shirts were in the majority. Fans had started leaving with more than fifteen minutes left in the game and by the time the game was nearly over there cannot have been more than 8000 fans left in the arena, 11000 less than capacity. It was great to be in the majority, as if I were in Vancouver, but it was sad to see that a Canadian team could have fans as poor as what I saw. Credit is to be given to the Pink shirted fans in front of me, they stuck it out to the bitter end despite my questions as to where their team was and my statements that I could no longer hear them.

Leaving the arena I felt no fear, I was on top of the world. The Canucks had smashed the Senators 6-2. I had financially contributed to the support of the city of Ottawa by witnessing a public execution of Patrick Lalime and watched my first game away from Rogers Arena in 17 years of being a fan. High fives and Go Canucks Go chants were handed out and shouted liberally on the concourse. Despite being surrounded by dejected Sens fans the feeling that I experienced walking away cannot be described. It needs to be experienced. I saw a couple young teenage Canucks fans huddled together at the crosswalk looking a touch overwhelmed and perhaps a little scared at the droves of Sens fans around us. I nodded at them, smiled and said "nice jerseys boys" like the seasoned away fan I had become.

Finally a picture of myself, in the coat, and my brother post game. Check out the score.







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