Santa Claus wore red and white at Scotiabank Place on Saturday afternoon.
A red and white Ottawa Senators jersey, that is.
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk brought an unforgettable day of joy into the lives of 100 youngsters during his fourth annual Melnyk Family Skate for Kids. From a fun-filled lunch at Local Heroes Hockey Country Lodge, to an hour on the very ice the Senators skate upon almost every day, the youngsters had plenty of reason to smile broadly and feel the warmth of the holiday season.
|Senators owner Eugene Melnyk helps a youngster lace up his brand new skates for the fourth annual Melnyk Family Skate For Kids on Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC). |
“Take a look. You see these kids are thrilled,” Melnyk said as he described the joy the day brings him, his wife, Laura, and their two children, Anna and Olivia.
“For many of them, it’s their first time on the ice. The ones you see that can skate obviously know hockey, and for them to be on the same ice as the Sens is beyond their imagination.”
Oh, but they can imagine, even if for just an hour, being just like their favourite Senator.
Just ask 10-year-old Sardar Mohammed, a big Jason Spezza
“I think I’m a Senator when I’m out here,” he said on the middle of the Scotiabank Ice, which was filled with youngsters clad in red Sens jerseys. “If you play on the same ice as they do, you’re exactly the same.”
Added Melnyk: “You go up to any of these kids and every one of them, in their mind, is a (Sens) player. I ask them, ‘who are you going to be when you go out there?’ And they’ll say ‘I’m going to be Daniel Alfredsson
’ or something like that.
Mohammed even decided to see what it felt like to bump into the boards, just like his hockey heroes.
“I tried to see what it was like when the Ottawa Senators (hit the boards)," he said. "I think it causes them a lot of pain.”
Melnyk said he and his family, who reside in Barbados, traditionally spend the holidays back in Canada. It was rather obvious there was no place he’d rather be on this Saturday afternoon, with his Senators due to play the Atlanta Thrashers later that night.
“One of the things I learned very quickly (about) this organization is that it’s very community oriented,” said Melnyk in describing his inspiration for Saturday’s event. “(We have) the players going out to CHEO and doing different things all the time in the community with kids.
“The ice is free. I thought, why don’t we put something together where we can get kids out, give them a pair of skates, a helmet and a jersey and let them come out for a skate? It’s a very simple idea … these kids will never forget this for the rest of their lives.”
In partnership with Children and Youth Friendly Ottawa (CAYFO), 100 children from two of eight selected schools are brought out to the Melnyk Family Skate.
They were treated to lunch at Local Heroes Hockey Country Lodge, then joined the Melnyk family on the ice for an hour of skating. Each child took home a brand new pair of skates, a helmet, a Senators jersey and loot bag, all of it generously donated by the Melnyk family.
It has become a Melnyk family holiday tradition, one that Sens Foundation honorary chairman Max Keeping said shows how committed the Senators owner is to Ottawa and its children.
“Ottawa is learning every year what a gift Eugene Melnyk and his family really are,” said Keeping. “No one appreciates that more than the 100 children each year for whom he is a smiling, benevolent and real Santa.” Check out our photo gallery of this fun day here