• By: OLM Staff

Hope for Sports in the Capital

It may sometimes seem bleak, but  it’s a great time to be a sports fan in Ottawa. While our city’s only major sports franchise, the Senators, have clearly seen better days, it’s refreshing to see the organization commit to a full rebuild of the on-ice product, one that should pay dividends within the next few seasons and see our hometown team rise once again into the elite of the National Hockey League. At the junior level, both the Ottawa 67s (Ontario Hockey League) and Gatineau Olympiques (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) finished their 2010-11 seasons high in the standings of their respective leagues, and both teams are priming for deep playoff runs.

Ottawa may finally have a stable baseball franchise to cast its support behind following the departures of the hometown Lynx, in 2007, and Rapidz, in 2009. The Ottawa Fat Cats, the brainchild of the Ottawa Stadium Group and a member of the semi-professional Intercounty Baseball League, began play in May of 2010, and were immediately embraced by a collection of fans hungry to see steady baseball played in Ottawa. Despite finishing last in the league with an 11-25 record, the Fat Cats drew better at the box office than any of the IBL’s other eight franchises, averaging 2,328 fans per home game. Last November, Ottawa’s general manager, Duncan McDonald, was named the 2010 IBL Executive of the Year.

At the university level, the Carleton Ravens’ men’s basketball team recently won its seventh national championship in the past nine years, a surreal run characterized by the consistency and domination of Dave Smart’s troops over that period. Led by Smart, the reigning (and four-time) Canadian Interuniversity Sport Coach of the Year, and second-year forward Tyson Hinz, an Ottawa native and the CIS Player of the Year, the Ravens will lose just one player next year to graduation, establishing them as the favourites to take home another title at the Halifax Metro Centre next March.

Looking ahead to the future, Ottawa will field a Canadian Football League team beginning in 2013, headed by an ownership group featuring current 67s owner Jeff Hunt. Meanwhile, Sens owner Eugene Melnyk has made his intentions clear to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Ottawa, in the wake of expansion teams being awarded to Vancouver and Montreal. (In the meantime, the semipro club Capital City FC will begin play this season in the Canadian Soccer League, which is two rungs below MLS, while Ottawa has been promised a North American Soccer League franchise in 2013, one rung below MLS).

All of this is to say that, despite the Sens’ recent misfortunes, the Ottawa sports landscape is not so very bleak at all. This preamble also serves as an introduction to Ottawa Life’s new online sports blog, which will be authored by myself. I’ll chronicle the ongoing rebuild of the Senators, touching on points related to both the future and the history of the organization. We’ll have a running tracker of the 67s’ and Olympiques’ respective playoff runs, from the first round to (fingers crossed) the Memorial Cup. I’ll also provide analysis on any developments to Ottawa’s prospective football and soccer franchises.

This blog won’t be limited to sports in Ottawa – I’ll write about the goings-on of the NBA (Toronto Raptors rebuild, anyone?), MLB (do the Jays have any hope this year?), the NFL (you know, if there are games next season), and a variety of other leagues, tournaments and events.

For now, I leave you with one last comforting thought: As of this writing, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of a playoff spot.