|Cancer survivor Paige Dillabough watches her brother, Garry, line up a put while Senators players Chris Campoli (left) and Jesse Winchester look on during their friendly game prior to the 16th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic on Friday at Kanata Golf & Country Club.
Smiles and laughter abounded on the putting green as the Ottawa Senators players eagerly did their best to bring some extra sunshine into a couple of youngsters' lives.
Not that any help was needed in the climate area, given the bright blue skies and balmy temperatures that greeted everyone upon their arrival at the Kanata Golf & Country Club for the 16th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Golf Classic.
The tournament has become the traditional first public function of the hockey season for the Senators and is a clear signal that the initial puck drop is just around the corner. That thought was never far away on Friday, even if this day is first and foremost about helping a worthy cause. The Bell/Sens Charity Classic has now raised more than $1.2 million since its inception and is a key part of the five-year commitment Bell and the Sens Foundation made in May 2006 to raise $1 million over a five-year period for the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
But naturally, the talk often strayed to hockey for a group of players who hope to rebound quickly from their first non-playoff season since 1995-96. Much as they enjoyed their respective summers, it's clearly time to lace up the blades once again.
"I had a great summer," said a grinning Senators centre Jason Spezza
, who celebrated his marriage to Jennifer Snell in July. "But it's nice to get started and just to get back to play hockey. We've been training for awhile now and this is always an exciting time of the year."
For flashy forward Alex Kovalev, the Senators' key free-agent signing of the off-season, the golf tourney marked the official start of the next chapter in his hockey career. He spent the last five seasons with the Montreal Canadiens but is eager to hit the ice with his new teammates.
"It's always exciting," Kovalev said about his new start. "It's like I've said many times. You build a house, you live in it and then you kind of get tired of it. You want something new. So I'm really excited to come in here and start building a new house and making this team better. It's going to be an exciting challenge.
"I know what I do best and how I can contribute to this team. I'm just excited to start camp and start the season."
The addition of Kovalev and goaltender Pascal Leclaire, a trade deadline acquisition from the Columbus Blue Jackets in March, has the Senators believing an improved season lies ahead.
"It's like I've said many times. You build a house, you live in it and then you kind of get tired of it. You want something new. So I'm really excited to come in here and start building a new house and making this team better. It's going to be an exciting challenge. I know what I do best and how I can contribute to this team. I'm just excited to start camp and start the season." - Alex Kovalev
"There are definitely a lot of good things that went on over the summer, with the addition of Kovalev and a few young guys coming up that are really going to be good," said centre Mike Fisher. "We've got a lot to look forward to this year. We know we're going to be much better and that's what we've got to try to focus on in camp."
Added forward Jarkko Ruutu: "We have a good team on paper. We have to prove it on the ice and I think that's the one thing we have to realize. We had a poor year last year and we have to rebound right from the start."
But all of that is for another day. On a sunny Friday morning, defenceman Chris Campoli and forward Jesse Winchester
found another use for their hockey sticks, using them as putters during a friendly game with 14-year-old cancer survivor Paige Dillabough and her brother, Garry.
Paige smiled widely as she talked about Fisher, her favourite Senator. That brought out the same reaction from the Ottawa centre.
"I say thank you," Fisher said with a wide grin when heard about one of the many fans he's gained in the capital.
Thank you with a smile... it was that kind of special day at Kanata Lakes.