For many Canadians, learning how to skate has become a rite of passage and is merely the precursor to the start of those early morning minor hockey practices. But for others, taking part in certain aspects of Canadian culture has always had its fair share of roadblocks.
"We just take skating for granted up here. We really do," said Senators owner Eugene Melnyk as he addressed the media back in November of 2010. "And a lot of kids can't afford those skates. The hard reality is that, for many children in our community, the thought of skating or playing hockey on an ice rink is nothing more than a hope or dream."
It was at that news conference nearly 7 years ago, that Melnyk announced a partnership between the Ottawa Senators Foundation, Canadian Tire Jumpstart and the City of Ottawa to help make the access to ice surfaces and equipment a lot easier for those who need it.
And the I Love to Skate Program was born.
"It's the mission of our foundation and the hockey club to give every child an opportunity to play," said Danielle Robinson, president and CEO, Ottawa Senators Foundation. "Thanks to great partners and community support, we're eliminating barriers like registration fees and equipment costs and helping kids discover the joy of skating."
Since its inception, over 3,500 local kids who have encountered barriers due to financial constraints or a lack of volunteer support in their community have been able to take part in a great Canadian past-time…free of charge.
The I Love to Skate program provides skates, helmets and four weeks of skating lessons at ten of Ottawa's 200+ outdoor rinks and culminates with an opportunity to skate on the ice at Canadian Tire Centre.
"Getting new skates & helmets, skating outside and making new friends are all memories these kids will have for the rest of their lives. We're very fortunate to be able to give that experience to more than 500 kids every year." added Robinson.
In 2015, the success of the I Love to Skate partnership spawned the birth of I Love to Play Hockey, a similar program offered by the partners that will see 110 participants this year take the next step in their development by putting a stick in their hand and puck on the ice as they are put through their paces by certified instructors.
For more information on the I Love to Skate and I Love to Play Hockey program, visit www.sensfoundation.com.