• By: Dave Gross

The most despised team ‘in’ Ontario is . . . ?



Smith . . .

Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about common interests. (A little misdirection if you like, but quite frankly the D.J. Smith discussion is going great guns without my input, and so we’ll move into and onto a different battlefield. Besides: Gotcha!).

Common interests; an entirely ironic topic when you’re weighing in on a couple of teams that shouldn’t and probably don’t like each other a whole lot.

Ottawa meet Toronto. Toronto meet Ottawa.

Ottawa and Toronto, meet the Florida Panthers.

What they share? Well there’s no ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘probably’ confusing the subject matter here – both Ontario-based hockey organizations don’t like Florida a whole lot.

A whole lot? Make that – completely. Absolutely. 

Hate. Despise. Loathe.

I mean, what’s not to dislike if you’re these provincial brothers. The Panthers have, in different manners, dipped their poisoned pen into the Senators, and into the Maple Leafs.

First, Ottawa.

Last season Florida and Ottawa went toe-to-toe in early April in a slugfest that lasted seemingly 3-4 hours. Yep, it was that damn good.

Four fights (that were actually listed as ‘official’), eight misconducts and a myriad of slashing and roughing calls were dished out as Florida skated away with tongues wagging following a 7-2 win.

Goaltenders were jumped, soft players hardened (anyone remember Patrick Brown?) and not surprisingly the Tkachuk brothers were front and centre (for the record, Brady picked up 17 minutes in penalties to Matthew’s seven. They were both visible, throughout).

To present day: Most of you are suffering through what is looking more and more like another loss-filled, playoff-less Ottawa season, and to add a little salt to your ulcers, the Panthers showed up Monday night to add to the misery.


That 5-0 rip wasn’t even close and if it wasn’t for a feisty Joonas Korpisalo, the score could have been hitting eight or nine against.

The Senators were pushed around and bullied until seldom-used alleged tough guy Zack MacEwen jumped and popped the Florida-Tkachuk and put the game out of any kind of reach for the Senators. Fights and face-washings followed. Ad nauseum.

Through it all, Florida chuckled and loved it. Welcome to our jungle boys.

Second, Toronto.

After finishing off Tampa in the first round last spring, the Leafs saw a wide open, Bruin-less freeway leading the rest of the way through the Eastern Conference. Then Florida showed up and ripped hope and a potentially trouble-free ride out of their mitts.

More bullying ensued. Toronto was out-growled, out-coached and out-efforted as the Panthers moved on in a tidy five games.

Tuesday night saw Toronto squeak out a shootout win over Florida less than 24 hours after the P’s beat down Ottawa. Regardless of fatigue-factor, the Panthers held the physical edge.


I get it Ontario – you can’t stand the Panthers and for good reason. But as much as you can’t stand them, you just gotta admire them.

The Panthers know who they are, and identity is a beautiful thing.

You can’t say the same for a lot of teams in the NHL. 

And who are they?

Let me count the ways.

Firstly, the Panthers are a lot like my last marriage – never dull. Coach Paul Maurice has them hard on the puck, assertive and aggressive and cocky.

They don’t lose battles. It’s all-for-one and one-for-all. It doesn’t matter who tugs on the sweater, if you’re a Panther, you’ve got teeth.

Florida is rarely outworked, out-pressured or outcoached or out-goaltended, and that makes the Panthers the ideal ‘type’ for post-season hockey success.

In straightforward, it’s the team you wouldn’t want to see in the playoffs.

Not that that’s likely going to be a problem for Ottawa. But in Toronto? Round 2 anyone?

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: One exceedingly knowledgeable hockey fan and friend had this a few months ago: If I was starting a team and had two players to begin my franchise, it’d be Matthew and Brady Tkachuk . . . Great if you like four-hour games . . . I love four-hour games . . . Five hours? Sure . . . Quote of the week from Panthers’ boss Paul Maurice after Monday’s tilt: “(Hockey’s) graceful and beautiful and physical and angry all at the same time.” . . . Toronto’s nailbiter win Tuesday was all about goalie Joseph Woll. Unless he gets hurt, Woll’s your No. 1 in Hogtown for the foreseeable future . . . Don’t let the scoring slump fool you, William Nylander’s still stylin’-and-profilin’ for the Leafs. Unfortunately lately he hasn’t met a post or crossbar he doesn’t like . . . Calgary’s string of wins does exactly what to the trade winds in Alberta? Still have three pending UFA defencemen to sign at season’s end . . . Ottawa’s bizarro schedule continues through the first part of December. Once we hit Dec. 8th, the Senators will have played 16 of their first 21 games as home games . . . Those home game include the two in Sweden (versus Detroit and Minnesota) . . . The Red Wings sign Patrick Kane. Good thing or bad? Tinkering with a cohesive lineup, which Detroit owns right now, can sometimes prove problematic.



Friday, Dec. 1: Ottawa at Columbus (7 pm)

Saturday, Dec. 2: Seattle at Ottawa (7 pm)


Photo: Courtesy USA Today Sports