by Rebecca Virgin
Sunday, December 11, 2005
(Toronto) -- There's no doubt that the skaters on the ice at Air Canada Centre were pumped up and ready for action, jerseys and game faces on as the skaters took to the ice with great excitement.
They picked up speed in the corners and sped through the neutral zone before whizzing past players like Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill, all in wheelchairs and with the help of various other assistive devices and parents.
Everyone out on Sunday afternoon was on the same team, all with one goal, to raise funds for the Easter Seals Society, a tradition that stretches back more than 25 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It's tremendous," said Leafs defenceman Ken Klee." "Anytime you can help kids it's obviously a worthy cause so you know I'm certainly behind that. It makes you feel good to see all the kids out here and enjoying themselves"
The players got their workout by taking turns pushing the kids around the ice, kids who earned that right by collecting pledges throughout the year. Each participant had to raise a minimum of $100 to join in, but lots of them went above and beyond.
Rebecca Bernard is one of the special kids who has benefited from Easter Seals. Her wheelchair was bought with their help and now at age five she's already giving back. With the help of her parents and family Rebecca was able to raise $2,200.
"She really tries to help everybody else, that's why she wanted to do Easter Seals," said Wanda Bernard, Rebecca's mother. "She was actually a complimentary skater but she said "I want to raise the money' and she's been asking people for donations, she just wants to help other kids."
And Rebecca was all smiles, especially when she got to meet Mats Sundin, her favourite Maple Leaf.
Smiles like Rebecca's were on the faces of everyone on the ice, including the players.
"I know growing up as a Leaf fan that it's a very exciting day," said Leaf newcomer Jason Allison. "Anytime you can give someone enjoyment like that it makes you feel good."
With so many charitable events at this time of year Easter Seals is thankful for the people who pledged their support for the children.
"There are so many giving people in the province of Ontario," said Greg Smith, volunteer chair of the board for Easter Seals Society. "I think once they realize and see the children and see the impact that the fundraising is having on their lives, people are willing to give and it's very special."
In order to continue the tradition Smith felt it was important to thank the Maple Leafs each individually but he discovered that they already knew what their presence meant.
"They see it in the kids," said Smith. "When they see it in their faces and in their smiles and the true honest feelings that you get from the children, that's how they get it."