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Kids come first at annual Bell/Senators golf tourney

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
CHEO patient Cassandra Stevens gets a hug from Sens forward Mike Fisher prior to the 17th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic at Kanata Golf & Country Club. The event has raised more than $1.22 million in 16 years (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).

The brisk morning winds that howled across the immaculately manicured greens almost seemed right in tune with the occasion.

After all, the Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Classic annually provides a clear signal that another hockey season is just around the corner. Now in its 17th year, the tournament traditionally falls on the day before the Senators open training camp at Scotiabank Place.

"It feels like fall today, that's for sure, and hockey is around the corner," Senators centre Mike Fisher accurately noted before hitting the links at the Kanata Golf & Country Club with his teammates. "It's good to see everyone back and excited."

Cutting through the autumnal chill, however, was the special warmth that always embraces an event that has raised more than $1.22 million over the last 16 years in support of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). Cassandra Stevens, a 16-year-old dialysis patient at the hospital, choked back tears as she offered up her thoughts about the day.

"To actually meet the Senators ... it's such an amazing team and it's just awesome to be here," said an emotional Stevens. "I just love it because they're my favourite team."

Her words resonated strongly with Senators defenceman Chris Phillips, a father of three young children who knows full well about CHEO's healing touch.

"The way Cassie spoke sums it all up," he said. "The impact that we have on the kids and, on top of that, the tournament and the money that we're able to raise here today. To put that into CHEO, (through) a great partnership with Bell that's been very successful ... it just feels very good when you know you're making a difference.

"We've been to CHEO ourselves with our kids and they treat you so well. The care that you receive there and the way they make the kids feel ... that place is second to none."

In May 2006, the Sens Foundation and Bell announced a five-year commitment to raise $1 million for CHEO. This year's Bell/Sens Charity Classic marks the culmination of that campaign.

The way Cassie spoke sums it all up. The impact that we have on the kids and, on top of that, the tournament and the money that we're able to raise here today. To put that into CHEO, (through) a great partnership with Bell that's been very successful ... it just feels very good when you know you're making a difference. We've been to CHEO ourselves with our kids and they treat you so well. The care that you receive there and the way they make the kids feel ... that place is second to none." - Chris Phillips
"It's a celebration of the $1-million commitment that the Sens Foundation and Bell made," said foundation president Danielle Robinson. "This is going to take us one step closer."

Added Gary Cameron, Bell's vice-president of professional services: "We're getting close to that target. But today is about the kids and ... being able to help kids that aren't as fortunate and their families as well."

Money raised by the tournament is used by CHEO to purchase toys and specialized equipment for children, as well as for valuable research.

"Nobody support sthe children's hospital as much as the Senators do," said Fred Bartlett, president and CEO of the CHEO Foundation. "The support we get is incredible and we're very, very pleased with it."

Fisher, for one, is always happy to be among those lending a hand.

"I always want to do as much as I can, because I've seen what a little bit can do," he said. "I've seen the impact that some of these charities have on kids. When you go to these places, it makes you want to do more and I'm going to continue doing that."

For the three CHEO patients who got to share the day with the Senators, nothing could top this opportunity to meet with their hockey heroes.

"For me, it's really special," said Kyle Martelle, 12, who is battling cystic fibrosis. "I get to meet pretty much all the members of my favourite hockey team."

Zachary Thurston came up with another reason to cheer.

"It's fun to meet all the members of the Senators," said Thurston, who is being treated for Crohn's disease at CHEO. "And I get to miss a bit of school."

Happy times all around, indeed.

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