|This young fan's summed up the sentiment of the first Faceoff Fieldtrip at Scotiabank Place, which combined education and the opportunity to watch a Senators practice. The event was part of the club's Sens @ School program.
So much for the usual sleepy atmosphere on a Monday morning at Scotiabank Place.
When the Ottawa Senators hit the ice at Scotiabank Place for the first day of another work week, they were greeted by the screams and cheers of more than 3,400 students from 42 elementary schools in Ottawa and the surrounding region.
The occasion was the first Faceoff Fieldtrip, a new element of the club's Sens@School program. Some 118 teachers whose classes are registered with the program accepted an invitation to bring their students out to the arena to see their hockey heroes in a much more up-close and personal way.
"We've got classes here from Casselman to Stittsville," said Aaron Robinson, the Senators' director of fan and community development. "We're really happy with the response. It's great to have the kids here.
"They bring an energy to the building that otherwise wouldn't be here on a Monday morning ... We've had tons of 'Go Sens Go' and 'Al-fie' chants."
Said Daniel Alfredsson
, the Senators captain: "On a Monday morning after a day off, it’s usually a little harder to get going. But hearing them scream and their enthusiasm was pretty fun. It sounded almost like a playoff game when we got out there."
Flashy centre Alex Kovalev entertained the fans with his wide array of stickhandling skills, including hitting airborne pucks with a baseball swing. He handed two of his sticks to eager youngsters before leaving the ice.
"You put yourself in their position and (think about) how you would feel," said Kovalev afterward. "We're trying to make their (day) fun and at least when they leave the building, they leave with some souvenirs and they're happy."
Nobody, however, got a bigger reception than Matt Carkner
, the Winchester native who now calls Westport home. The big blueliner couldn't help smiling when a huge banner that read "Rideau Vista Loves Matt Carkner
" was unfurled in the section behind goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
"He's a celebrity now," said a grinning Nick Foligno
. "I liked (seeing) that. He’s worked hard and we're happy for him."
Carkner, who has friends on the teaching staff at the Westport school, said he's grateful for the support he continues to get from the Ottawa Valley. He saw today's event as a chance to give back to those communities.
"A little bit of a dream come true (for them), I guess," said Carkner, a native of Winchester. "When I was a little kid, I’d see these guys skating around out there and you’d think they were these amazing people just up on a pedestal. To be able to skate around today and see the kids cheering and smiling is pretty special, for sure.
"It’s always been great to have good support from all these small towns surrounding my hometown of Westport, where I’ve lived the past six years. Just to be able to practise in the NHL and show them how it is and whatnot, it’s pretty neat for sure."
"A little bit of a dream come true (for them), I guess. When I was a little kid, I’d see these guys skating around out there and you’d think they were these amazing people just up on a pedestal. To be able to skate around today and see the kids cheering and smiling is pretty special, for sure." - Matt Carkner
The day also included an educational component, with students learning about things such as ice making and the game pucks. In a video shown on the arena scoreboard, they got tips on firing a slap shot from Carkner.
In addition, Senators strength and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz provided some fitness and healthy eating advice as a lead-in to a new Senators community program called Shoot For 60, which Robinson said "encourges kids to be active for 60 minutes a day."
All 118 classes represented at the Faceoff Fieldtrip are registed with Sens@School, with each class receiving two tickets to the Senators' Nov. 26 home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets as an extra incentive to take part in today's event.
"The idea is for them to raffle them off in class or school," said Robinson. "We gave each teacher a pair of tickets to offset the cost of (renting) the bus. It’s a way to help kick off (the program) the right way. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for the teachers."
In the players' eyes, it was a winning idea, too.
"It was great," said centre Jason Spezza
, whose Spelling With Spezza
program is a key element of Sens@School. "It was nice to see the kids come out. It’s something that, as a kid, I would have welcomed. It maybe gives you a little extra jump in practice when you’ve got the Monday blues and you don’t play until Thursday. It was a nice treat."