|There were smiles aplenty on Saturday afternoon at Scotiabank Place as more than 100 children from two Ottawa schools hit the ice for the Eugene Melnyk Skate For Kids, an annual event held for eight years now by the Ottawa Senators owner (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
Eugene Melnyk sees the smiles surrounding him and can't help breaking into a wide grin himself.
He has a question for them all, though he's no doubt pretty certain what the answer will be.
"It's cool to be a good kid, right?" the Ottawa Senators owner asks, and the quick response from the group is a resounding "yeah!"
"All right, let's go do some skating!" Melnyk said with enthusiasm.
In these youngsters' eyes, the guy who made all of this magic happen is one pretty cool cat, too. Melnyk sees it in the joy they all show as they frolic across the ice at Scotiabank Place during the eighth annual Eugene Melnyk Skate For Kids.
On this day, to be sure, it is their personal rink of dreams.
"It's great to be able to give back to the community and see the joy in their eyes," Melnyk said in explaining the movitation behind this event, which brings more than 100 underprivileged youth to the home of the Senators for an afternoon of skating fun. "I never had this opportunity when I was a kid, to be able to skate where the stars I dreamed about (skated). So it's a dream come true for them."
For the second time in four years, children from Charles H. Hulse Public School and Brother Andre Catholic School in Ottawa were invited to take part in the Melnyk Skate. Each received a new helmet, a new pair of skates and a Senators jersey, all of it generously donated by Melnyk himself.
"They're all having a great time," Melnyk said as he watched the children skate, many of them for the first time in their young lives. "And the kids are just great. It's really nice to see and it's really heartwarming."
The day is also intended as a reward for children who shine both in and out of the classroom. The schools chosen for the Melnyk Skate For Kids are identified by Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa (CAYFO), a not-for-profit youth organization which has spearheaded innovative anti-bullying and victimization programs and helped children at risk in the nation's capital since 1997.
"Basically, they're just good kids," said Melnyk. "These are girls and boys that have really excelled in their academics and as little people growing up ... Peer pressure does work both ways. They're going to go back to their school and say 'I was on this ice.' What did you do to get there? I was just a good kid.
"That's all they have to do. Be a good kid, try your hardest and try to get some good, decent marks, and improve upon yourself. It's actually cool to be a good kid. That's what I hope they get out of this."