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Toronto Maple Leafs' goalie Jonas Gustavsson and Ottawa Senators' Colin Greening follow the puck during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Ottawa October 30, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)
Toronto Maple Leafs' goalie Jonas Gustavsson and Ottawa Senators' Colin Greening follow the puck during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Ottawa October 30, 2011. (BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS)


The story behind the Battle of Ontario Add to ...

It all becomes clearer through flashback.

Not LSD, but the Scotiabank Place scoreboard, which Sunday night took the hockey world back to 1904 during a break in the action as the hometown Ottawa Senators defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in what was, by any measure, a superb hockey match.

It made watchers wonder if the bitter old Battle of Ontario – an NHL joke these past several seasons – had suddenly reappeared when least expected.

The scoreboard flashed a black-and-white photograph of Teddy Roosevelt, president of the United States in 1904, one taken on the New York subway, opened in 1904, showed the original cover of The Cat In the Hat, published in 1904 – and then one of the Ottawa Senators, Stanley Cup champions in 1904.

It was all done to draw attention to the local team wearing their new heritage “sweaters” – “jerseys” being a type of cow back in 1904 – and brought a great round of applause as the crowd was reminded what a powerhouse the original Senators once were.

That year, 1904, also marked the singular time these two Ontario cities met to decide the Stanley Cup.

It was Feb. 23, 1904, with the Toronto Marlboros in Ottawa to take on the team nicknamed the Silver Seven in a two-game series.

Perhaps here is where the animosity began. It was, by all accounts, a splendid match, with the visiting Marlies up 3-1 at the half – the hockey hour being divided up differently back then – and the hometown Seven coming back with five straight goals to take the series lead on their way to retaining the Cup. Two days later, Ottawa crushed the dispirited Marlies 11-2.

If scientists wished to trace the bad blood between the two hockey cities, it was suggested a few years back in this space that this is may be the source. The Toronto Globe – a moment, please, while we blush – roared in outrage against the Seven, writing that: “Ottawa players slash, trip and practice the severest kind of cross-checking, with a systematic hammering of hands and wrists.

“They hit a man on the head when the referee isn't looking, and they body a man into the boards after he has passed the puck. The rubber is not the objective, but the man must be stopped at all costs; if he is put out altogether, so much the better.”

Worse, the Toronto crowd, players included, were convinced that Ottawa had cheatedby discreetly “salting” the ice during the halftime break in Game 1 in order to slow the game down so that stronger but slower Seven could catch the fleet little Marlies and pound them into submission.

But there could be many other reasons for such distaste between the two Ontario centres. Hockey’s own “Babe Ruth Story” involves the Senators selling the brilliant King Clancy to Toronto for $35,000 – soon leading to a Toronto Stanley Cup in 1932 and, perhaps not coincidentally, the demise of the original Senators’ franchise. Two years later the Senators moved to St. Louis, became the Eagles, played one more lousy season and vanished forever.

Hockey, however, cannot be the only bone of contention. York believed it deserved to be the capital of the new country, only to have Queen Victoria, apparently, choose Ottawa by firing a spitball that landed on a map of North America halfway up the Ottawa River.

Both also suffer the slings and arrows of the rest of the country. Toronto is regularly ridiculed as “The Centre of the Universe” and genuinely reviled for its banking and media concentration. “I have two brothers,” B.C. humorist Eric Nicol, who died earlier this year, once said. “One is alive, the other lives in Toronto.” Ottawa was once regularly dismissed as “a sub-arctic lumber village” and is, of course, where taxes go to be wasted. It is, therefore, in the interest of each city to join in the national piling-on.

Whatever the reason, or reasons, it’s genuine.

“There’s no secret,” Ottawa forward Zenon Konopka said Sunday, “We hate these guys.”

And Toronto hates you, Zenon.

Such is the madness, and beauty, of long-time rivalry.

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