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Senators owner: liver transplant was life-changing

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had a special appreciation for the look on the faces of the children participating in his 12th annual Skate for Kids at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday.

Earlier this year, he didn't know if he would see them.

Melnyk, 56, underwent a liver transplant from a live donor in May. The 11-hour procedure saved his life; he estimated he had about a week left to live without the surgery.

He laced up his skates on Friday to go on the ice with the group of children from a couple of schools. They each received skates, helmet and a Senators jersey, and become part of the more than 1,200 children who have participated in the program.

When asked how he felt, he said: "Fantastic. Honestly, I couldn't be better. I can't remember the last time I felt this good in my life. Just full of energy. I get up very early, go to be at decent hours and eat well. That's it.

"It's a life-changing thing and I can see now it's for the better. I'm just happy, frankly, to be alive. That's the best way to put it."

Melnyk, who has not suffered Senators' losses well in the past, said the events of the past year has softened his attitude.

"A lot of things are miniscule compared to that. It puts everything back to perspective for me," he said. "If we lose a game, I used to be walking around moping for five days. Now I just come down and talk to somebody and say 'OK, next game.' I just hope that we do better and we do well, get into the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup."

But Melnyk was in a feisty mood when it came to discussing the competition to build an arena in downtown Ottawa.

The National Capital Commission, which controls the 9.3 acres of land west of Parliament Hill and adjacent to Ottawa's downtown known as LeBreton Flats, announced this week it is down to two proposals: Melnyk's Rendez Vous LeBreton Group and another by DCDLS Group.

It was reported the bid by DCDLS Group would include an NHL-caliber arena, something Melnyk characterized Friday as "misleading."

"I mean, c'mon. You guys have got to read through this stuff," he said. "How in God's name do they want to build an arena? I don't get it, because there is no NHL team available. This team is mine for life. My daughter has already taken first dibs on it.

"The long and short of it is the team's not for sale; it never will be in my lifetime, for sure. Number two, you can't come into my territory. What's the matter with you? Who's going to play there? It's misleading. I don't understand why they would put that in. Who knows?"

Melnyk said if he doesn't get the chance to build an arena downtown, it wouldn't make any sense to move into an arena he didn't own.

"Not a chance, and I'll tell you why. It's not because of any egos or anything," he said. "It's specifically we need to control the building. Forget about the financial part, which is your revenue-drivers. You've got to control things. I don't want to go get permission to do this, nor do I want to pay someone for that privilege. If we want to do something here [at Canadian Tire Centre], we get it done."

The next step in the new arena process is two days of public consultations on the two bids at the end of January.

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