|Matt Carkner and the Senators wore special camouflage jerseys during the pre-game warmup prior to the game against the Bruins on Canadian Forces Appreciation Night at Scotiabank Place. The jerseys will be auctioned off next week (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
It's a heartfelt salute to our troops that keeps getting bigger with each passing year.
More than 3,500 military personnel and their families took in the Ottawa Senators-Boston Bruins game at Scotiabank Place on Saturday on Canadian Forces Appreciation Night at Scotiabank Place. It was the largest assembly of troops yet in the seven years the Senators have held the event, pushing the overall total to over 16,000 since team owner Eugene Melynk launched the inaugural CF night in 2003.
As part of the Tickets for Troops program, Senators staff, season-seat holders and a record 29 corporate sponsors teamed up to donate tickets for the event.
"We do this to recognize and honour (the Canadian forces) for their dedication, their courage and professionalism in representing all Canadians as they work to bring peace and democracy across the globe," Senators president Cyril Leeder said during a pre-game reception. "This is a testament to the great things our Canadian forces have been doing to represent all of us."
In the spirit of the evening, Senators players wore camouflage jerseys during the pre-game warmup, which will be auctioned off next week (visit www.meigray.com for details). Military personnel, led by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk, also took part in a ceremonial faceoff. Special CF Appreciation Night merchandise was available throughout the game at the Sens Store.
The evening always brings special pride to Melnyk, who was unable to attend this year's event but delivered a videotaped message to the troops on the arena scoreboard during the first period.
"The Senators organization is based in the nation's capital," Melnyk said in a statement. "We take great pride in that reality and we strive to connect ourselves closely with organizations that truly define what it means to be Canadian. There is no group that better defines this than the courageous men and women of our Canadian Forces. We salute all of them for their bravery and professionalism in serving our country with honour and distinction."
Melnyk has spread that message to the rest of the Canadian teams in the National Hockey League and all of them now hold CF Appreciation Nights. But, as federal defence minister Peter MacKay noted, "the Senators did it first and they did it best."
In recognition of the organization's continued support for the troops, Gen. Natynczyk presented Leeder with a Canadian Forces Medallion for distinguished service "in recognition of your outstanding and unwavering support of the Canadian Forces."
"During the past year, Mr. Leeder's personal involvement, leadership and tremendous efforts have been instrumental in Canadian Forces appreciation events in the community of Ottawa," the citation read.
Also benefiting from CF Appreciation Night is the Military Families Fund/Sens Foundation endowment at Algonquin College, which has already given 32 individuals the opportunity to further their post-secondary education at one of its three Ontario campuses. With a donation of $60,000, the fund — which was established in January 2008 — now sits at more than $560,000.
"We looked to create a lasting legacy as part of these celebrations," Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson said of the inspiration behind the endowment, which is a partnership between the foundation and corporate supporters of CF Appreciation Night and the Military Families Fund.