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Ottawa embraces chance to shine at All-Star Weekend

by Erin Nicks
OTTAWA -- As the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa approaches, the city is basking in the spotlight of hockey's midseason spectacle and promising to bring a unique flavor to the event.

"We'll try to be (and offer) exactly what we are," Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder said. "A slice of Canadiana and a true winter experience."

The All-Star Weekend events actually begin Thursday with a trophy procession down the Rideau Canal and continue throughout the weekend before the conclusion arrives with Sunday afternoon's game at ScotiaBank Place.

Throughout what should be a busy weekend, Ottawa is determined to put its stamp on the League's annual showcase -- an opportunity that has been years in the making.

"This is our 20th year in the League, and we've been bidding on the All-Star Game for the better part of 15 years," Leeder said. "Realistically, since Scotiabank Place opened in 1996, we've been trying to get (an All-Star Game)."


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Ottawa Tourism estimates that the weekend will pump approximately $35 million into the economies of the city and surrounding regions.

A significant benefactor will be the Sens Foundation, the team-based charity that focuses on improving the quality of life for children and youth in the area.

Foundation president Danielle Robinson acknowledged the significance of having the All-Star Game in Ottawa, citing the Energizer Night Skate on the Rideau Canal and the unveiling of a state-of-the-art playroom at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario as cornerstones of the All-Star agenda for her organization.

"New economic investment in partnership with our Foundation, we're approaching half a million dollars to give back to community just through this weekend alone," Robinson said. "The playroom is estimated to be a $250,000 project; the night skate is well over $100,000 and it's going to be arranged for us to go ahead and build rinks in our community. We run 50-50 lotteries (at Scotiabank Place), so with the (Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition) and the All-Star Game, those are two additional games that we wouldn't have had in a regular season. From a Foundation perspective, it's half a million dollars of sound investment for us to give back to the community."

Robinson also mentioned how the opportunities -- while making things hectic at times -- presented a welcoming challenge for the Foundation.

"The hockey season is a busy one at the best of times," Robinson said. "We have 44 home games, if you include the preseason, and we at the Foundation run a number of signature events and work closely with community partners. So to layer in an event of this magnitude is an incredible opportunity to create good will and new opportunities.

"Both the Energizer Night Skate and the CHEO playroom -- getting the partnership and participation required -- were launched in early December. We didn't know about this work in the summer. But I think when you're presented with some new opportunities, you evaluate them and see what they're going to mean to the community as a whole, and you just do what you have to do to get them done. Having great partners like the League and Energizer, as well as the local sponsors here, while being surrounded by an amazing team, created a winning formula."

Leeder agreed that the weekend-long festivities have taken a lot to put together, but knows that the city and its visitors will enjoy the show.

"It's a big undertaking, and we've been working closely with the League," Leeder said. "They rely heavily on the host to implement the details, and we've been planning it in a steady state for a year now, and, as we get closer, the workload and activity has gone up; but it's been manageable. The League's got a great staff who's done this before, and it makes for an easy transition from one city to the next.

"Our first job is to shine the spotlight on hockey and to put a focus on it here for our fans and, particularly, our season-ticket holders. It's a great thing to have in your community. Secondly, to turn it around and put the spotlight on our city so we get a chance to showcase it to the rest of the NHL -- and the world, for that matter.

"We have the world's largest skating rink open for all of guests to skate on, and we're doing a number of events on that rink, the Rideau Canal. I think we're trying to have an amazing experience for our partners around the League, and for all the guests that are coming to the game."

The opportunity to push Ottawa to the forefront of the hockey world during the upcoming weekend has given the city a chance to show itself off in a new way.  Robinson knows the nation's capital will make the most of it.

"The energy and excitement of the community right now and its citizens about having some of the most top talented athletes not only within the League, but within North America, come to our city and celebrate the best of the best in hockey is so exciting," she said. "What I think that does for our local marketplace (in a sense) is that it puts us on the map for people to take a look at some of the cool things that we're doing."

"It's going to be a great few days," Leeder said. "We're looking forward to welcoming guests to our city and providing an amazing All-Star Game experience."
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