|Senators forward Chris Neil and his wife, Caitlin, are succeeding Mike Fisher as honorary chairs of Roger's House, the pediatric palliative care facility built seven years ago in memory of beloved former Ottawa assistant coach Roger Neilson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
Tonight, he'll officially accept a most important torch from one of his best friends in hockey.
And to hear Chris Neil
tell it, there is something so perfectly right about it all.
The veteran Ottawa Senators forward and his wife, Caitlin, will be named the new honorary chairs of Roger's House at a reception slated for this evening at the palliative care facility that is also the charity of choice of the Sens Foundation. They'll follow in the footsteps of Neil's former teammate and good friend, Mike Fisher, who's being honoured at tonight's private event for his long-term contributions to Roger's House.
While Neil and Fisher "talk all the time," tonight's event marks the first time they'll see each other in person since the latter was traded to the Nashville Predators back in February.
"We always stay in touch," said Neil. "To be able to spend some time with him (tonight) ... it's like whenever one of your best buddies comes back. Having him there will feel right."
It's that bond the two share that, Neil admits, makes it easy for him to slip into a role that Fisher performed so admirably for so many years. Fisher was named to the position in 2004, when Roger's House was still under construction next door to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
"Being such close friends on the team together for so long ... it makes it very easy to step into something he's been a part of," said Neil. "When they asked me to be a part of it, I didn't hesitate to jump at the opportunity. I'm pretty honoured that they thought of us."
Neil and his wife are the parents of two children — Hailey, 4, and Cole, who celebrates his second birthday in September. He admits being a father makes the importance of facilities such as Roger's House "touch home" even more.
"It's a facility that you hope stays empty," said Neil. "But the reality is that it doesn't. It's needed and they probably need another one right beside it. It costs a lot to run a place like that and to be able to put my name to it and help raise money for such a great cause, it's awesome.
"Us having a family ourselves, we can relate to it a lot. Your kids mean the most to you and these parents, you see them and how they cope and deal with the situations they're in ... it's really touching to me."
Roger's House was built in memory of Roger Neilson, the beloved former Senators assistant coach who lost his fight with cancer in June 2003. The team and the Sens Foundation have been deeply involved in the project since it was first conceived.
"The Senators are very fortunate to have a roster of outgoing, community-minded players," said Senators president Cyril Leeder, also a board member of the Sens Foundation. "The addition of Chris and Caitlin to the Roger's House team is wonderful news for the house, its staff and, most importantly, the children and their families."
The importance of Roger's House to the community can't be understated, Neil said.
"Families can go there and get relief and help for their kids," he said. "To have that shoulder to lean on ... every couple that's been in there, they can't stress enough what it brings to their family and how it helps them. Roger's House is almost like a place like home to them."