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Heatley hated by Senators fans Add to ...

The famous story of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe - as recounted by Gay Talese in a long ago Esquire - has the newly married couple meeting as the movie star returns from Japan, where she had been entertaining the troops.

"It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering."

"Yes, I have," he said.

In Dany Heatley's case, he never heard such booing.

They hit him hard as he loped out onto the ice for the warm-up Thursday night. Fans he had turned his back on a year earlier - fans who had themselves warmed up by chanting "HEATLEY SUCKS! HEATLEY SUCKS!" while waiting for the visiting team to appear - booed him every time he touched one of the many pucks on the ice. They booed him off and they booed him back on as the secondary event of the day began: National Hockey League Game No. 370, Heatley's San Jose Sharks v. his former team, the Ottawa Senators.

Fifteen months ago, Heatley demanded a trade only one year into the six-year, $45-million (U.S.) deal that was supposed to make him a central cornerstone of a franchise with Stanley Cup ambitions. He left having collected a $4-million July 1 bonus that had been intended as a reward for good service - now seen as the ultimate knee to the privates of a city renowned for its hockey insecurity, having once lost an NHL franchise and not long ago watched helplessly as this one went bankrupt.

As best as can be determined, Heatley wanted out because he could not bear new coach Cory Clouston, who "diminished" his role on the ice. There were, surely, other factors, but not likely as strong as some of the theories - least among them mass murder - put forward in the bars and blogs of Ottawa.

That the nation's capital would turn with such venom on Heatley is not without irony, given that he is the all-time leading scorer for Canada in international play and has never refused a request to play for his country in world junior, world and Olympic tournaments.

But venom it was on this week of miserable weather. They came bearing signs attacking him in every imaginable way. They chanted "TRAITOR! TRAITOR! TRAITOR!" during the commercial breaks. And they booed every time he came over the boards.

A downtown bar held a "Heatley Hate Fest," complete with darts. The local Sun offered a newspaper insert of a Heatley mask and posted a video in which a reporter, wearing one of the masks, is thrown out of a bar, attacked by a cane-wielding senior and has a local barber try to "shave" him with a sword.

While it can be debated whether Heatley quit on the Senators, he did do it great damage, even if by default. He used his contract to nix a good deal with the Edmonton Oilers, forcing Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray to accept a trade with the Sharks that gave San Jose its leading scorer this season and gave Ottawa next to nothing: a high-priced former scorer named Jonathan Cheechoo the team had to buy out last summer, a second-round draft choice they gave up to acquire a veteran defenceman now lost to free agency, and Milan Michalek, a fair player last year but so far this year a player of little consequence.

The Heatley turmoil, the unfortunate trade with the Sharks, spotty goaltending, non-producing youngsters and an aging team has left the Ottawa Senators of 2010-11 struggling even to stay within reach of the playoffs as Christmas nears.

It only got worse this night, with the Sharks easily winning 4-0 over a listless Ottawa team. Heatley - drawing penalties, setting up the second goal - was probably the best player on the ice. And if not him, then Logan Couture, the rookie who scored twice while such Ottawa youngsters as defenceman Erik Karlsson and forward Nick Foligno showed nothing.

They were, however, not alone - the entire Senators roster played miserably.

If the venom towards Heatley caused any good, it was to inject a little life into an increasingly moribund arena. There has been little cheer for this season - the Heatley visit perhaps cathartic in that it gave the angry an outlet for their growing frustration.

While the message this night appeared - and certainly sounded - as if it was meant only for the ears of Dany Heatley, who said he didn't care, the much larger, more important message was to be found in the seats that were quietest.

The more than 1,000 empty seats.

"It sells tickets," Ottawa's Jason Spezza had said earlier of the Heatley focus.

But not enough for what used to be a routine sellout.

The boos at the end were not for Heatley but for the Senators themselves.

If you want to really sell tickets, you have to perform yourself - not count on those merely passing through.

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