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Sens bring cheer to CHEO

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The smiles, they couldn't have been bigger or brighter.

And the warmth they exchanged ... what more could any of them ask for on a chilly winter's day? It's the stuff of Christmas magic, this annual trek that is anything but a chore for a merry band of Ottawa Senators players who helped brighten this Wednesday for a roomful of patients at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

The sting of a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers the night before was quickly erased by each jolly grin or pleasant word that greeted the Senators on an occasion that has become a yearly treat for them all.

"It's fun for us to come here," said centre Mike Fisher. "It's not always easy, seeing the kids and what they're going through. But all the kids are upbeat, happy and it's Christmas time.

"It's really exciting for us and we usually get a lot more out of it than we put into it."

One by one, the Senators were introduced to a hearty round of cheers, each of the players bearing a gift for a child. They listened with broad grins as the patients, their families and CHEO staff sang a Sens-themed Christmas song they'd composed, accompanied by the fine guitar talents of Dylan Duquette.

"You make us feel very welcome," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.

Then it was the turn of Brian Lee, Ilya Zubov and Jesse Winchester to extend a rookie tradition with a rendition of that old holiday favourite, Jingle Bells.

"I thought they did a great job," said a grinning Nick Foligno, who had to fly solo in that area a year ago.

That about summed up the feelings of the patients, all of whom waited excitedly to meet their hockey heroes.

"For so many of the kids here who might not even by home for Christmas, it's just great for them," said Duquette, 16, of Mattawa, clad in a red Dany Heatley jersey. "It's just something that doesn't happen too often. Being in here, you don't think it will happen. I think it's great. It tripped me right out when they told me they were coming by."

Katia Cleroux was thrilled to meet three of her favourite Senators: Fisher, Antoine Vermette and Chris Neil.

"It's really awesome," said Cleroux, 15. "It's giving hope to some kids and it's a dream come true for others.

"To see these people you think you might never meet and to actually meet them ... it's a dream come true."

Clearly, it's a day that warms the hearts of these hockey Santas, too.

"It lightens the whole year up (for us)," said Neil. "They put smiles on our faces and that's how special these kids are in here. It's amazing."

And it sheds a different light on a tough loss or two.

"You gain perspective on everything," said Alfredsson. "What we do affects a lot of people but it's not life and death. Some people here have been here a long time and they face a lot of difficulties. It puts life in perspective and that's good for everybody to go through once in awhile."

Added Foligno: "You realize there are more important things in life than just winning and losing. These people are battling for their lives and that's something not a lot of people have to deal with and you feel fortunate when you don't have to.

"It's nice to be here and make them smile. It's always fun coming here, for sure."

Fisher said the annual visit  "definitely cheers us up. We've been going through a tough stretch in the last little while and this really puts things into perspective. It's always fun coming here and seeing them."

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