|Senators owner Eugene Melnyk played Santa Claus for the more than 100 children who came out to hit the ice at Scotiabank Place during his sixth annual Skate For Kids (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
It is a joyful day of skating fun that never ceases to take Eugene Melnyk back to the days of his youth.
The Ottawa Senators owner wore the broadest of smiles as he greeted more than 100 underprivileged children to his sixth annual Eugene Melnyk Skate for Kids at Scotiabank Place on Sunday morning. That grin grew ever wider as the youngsters chanted 'Go, Sens, Go' and thanked him for the opportunity that awaited them.
But very clearly, this was a holiday gift that was equally shared on both sides.
"To be able to do this and have 100 kids that otherwise would never be able to have an opportunity to skate period – never mind skate where the Ottawa Senators play – is really a great thrill for me and a great thrill for them," Melnyk said amid the smiles and laughter that were so obvious in this true winter wonderland. "It’ll probably be one of the things they remember most from their childhood.
"It’s just something that I love to do and I’m going to continue doing it every year."
Before they hit the ice, Melnyk shared a story with the children – selected from Centennial and Queen Elizabeth schools by Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa – that was his personal inspiration behind the creation of this event.
"When I was your age, I dreamt of being able to skate on the ice (at Maple Leaf Gardens)," said Melnyk, who grew up in Toronto. "I was never able to do that and I'm really, really happy that I'm able to do this and the whole Senators organization can do this, so you can live a dream and skate on the same ice as the greatest hockey players in the world."
"To be able to do this and have 100 kids that otherwise would never be able to have an opportunity to skate period – never mind skate where the Ottawa Senators play – is really a great thrill for me and a great thrill for them. It’ll probably be one of the things they remember most from their childhood. It’s just something that I love to do and I’m going to continue doing it every year." - Eugene Melnyk
That's one of the thoughts that thrilled many of the youngsters as they made their way around the ice surface at Scotiabank Place.
"It's really cool," said Rhiannon Bruce, 10. "I'm happy that I'm on the ice that hockey players play on, and that I'm not wearing figure skates. They don't fit me as well as these hockey skates. And they're nice and shiny and brand new!"
Ah, yes, the skates. Every one of the children in attendance received a new pair along with a helmet and Senators jersey, all of it generously donated by Melnyk. No wonder the lineup to get something signed by their own personal Santa Claus stretched almost the entire width of the ice at one point.
While some of the children whizzed around the ice, others cautiously took their first steps in a pair of skates. There were tumbles to ice aplenty but always, a smile that quickly followed.
"This is pretty fun," said 13-year-old Hamid Fazli about his first day on blades. "It's not bumpy. It feels really good. I like the skates. I'm lucky to have them."
Melnyk couldn't have been happier to introduce the newcomers to the ice.
“Many of these children have never been on skates before,” he said. “The children here today come from families representing over 30 countries. It really shows us how diverse the youth are in our community. This event provides all of them with a chance to start the holiday season with a truly Canadian tradition of experiencing the joy of skating.”
Spartacat, the Senators' ambassador of fun, was as popular as ever during his appearance at the holiday skate and members of the Sens Alumni joined in the fun. Then it was off to Local Heroes Hockey Country Lodge for a pizza luncheon, adding a most happy final slice to a memorable day.