|Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, right, and Sens Foundation honorary chair Max Keeping welcome 100 youngsters and their families to the seventh annual Eugene Melnyk Skate For Kids at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
They stood with that special glint in the eye that only children can possess, each one of them anxiously stealing a glance toward the playground of their dreams.
But the clean sheet of ice in front of them was very real, as much as the shiny new skates, black helmets and red jerseys they wore in bringing an infectious joy to Scotiabank Place on what would ordinarily be a quiet time on a Saturday afternoon.
Not on this day, however. And the man who makes it possible every year positively beamed as he watched the scenes of happiness unfold before him, just as it has for seven years now at the annual Eugene Melnyk Skate For Kids.
"Do you think they they will ever forget this day? They won't," Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said about the annual skating party which is all about "creating great memories" for 100 underprivileged youngsters in Ottawa. "It's going to be something that's embedded in their minds forever."
That's exactly what Melnyk envisioned when he first began holding the event. Each year, in partnership wtih Children and Youth Friendly Ottawa, he makes dreams come true for a group of youngsters from a pair of local schools. This year's participants were selected from Severn Avenue Public School and Pope John Paul II Catholic School.
Before turning them loose on the Scotiabank Place ice, Melnyk made sure each received new skates, a helmet and a jersey. Afterward, he treated them all to a pizza lunch at Local Heroes Hockey Country Lodge. The smiles he sees and the laughter he hears remind Melnyk why this occasion always ranks among his favourite days.
"Quite honestly, this is one of the highlights of my year," he said. "It ranks right up there with the Stanley Cup playoffs. The skate itself is just a small gesture that was a great idea created by some great people. We asked 'what can we do to really give back to the community, to give back to the people who want it the most, could have it, can't have it ... and that's children.
"It fulfills a dream for some very well deserving children in our community. I have two little daughters (Olivia and Anna) as well and ... I can look in the eyes of the kids when we go skating and it's just absolutely phenomenal."
For everyone on the ice today, it was clear this was no "small gesture" in their eyes.
"Each winter, Mr. Melnyk strives to make 100 kids feel very special," said Max Keeping, honorary chair of the Sens Foundation. "The gifts that Mr. Melnyk has for each child is a gift that represents his desire for all youth here today to have the best Christmas holiday season in 2010 and a memory that will last a lifetime."
Indeed, the timing of this event is no accident, with the holiday season front and centre in Melnyk's thoughts.
"I wish I had the opportunity when I was their age to just get on the ice and be able to do what they're doing today," he said. "It's a great way to kick off the Christmas and holiday season. There's a lot of happiness in the building and a lot of happiness in their community. Within the Sens organization, it's something that we just are absolutely committed to doing forever. It's just something that we're (always) going to do."