For the sixth straight year, Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators have paid a giant salute to the men and women of Canada's armed forces.
Tuesday night's game between the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning was designated as Canadian Forces Appreciation Night, with more than 2,200 military personnel and their families taking in the night at Scotiabank Place. Tickets were donated by Senators staff and season-ticket holders, with 28 corporate sponsors also pitching in their support.
At a pre-game reception, Senators president Cyril Leeder said the organization is "extremely proud" to pay tribute to the efforts of Canadian Forces in such a tangible way each year.
"We do this to recognize them and honour them (for) their dedication, their courage, and their professionalism in representing all Canadians to bring peace and democracy around the world," said Leeder.
Melnyk, the Senators' owner, has made CF Night a priority since he bought the franchise in 2003. The rest of the National Hockey League teams in Canada have followed suit over the years, but Melnyk expressed pride in being the one to get the movement started.
"We are the first city that ever did this and I'm hoping that all cities across Canada continue to do this type of event for the armed forces," he said. "Tonight, we're here to honour all of the men and women of the armed forces and I can't be prouder to be a part of this.
"Their courage and commitment to serve our country is a daily reminder to all Canadians how much we value global peace and democracy."
"We are the first city that ever did this and I'm hoping that all cities across Canada continue to do this type of event for the armed forces. Tonight, we're here to honour all of the men and women of the armed forces and I can't be prouder to be a part of this." - Eugene Melnyk
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the chief of defence staff, expressed his gratitude to Melnyk for his unwavering support of the Canadian Forces. Two years ago, the Senators owner visited Canadian troops stationed in Kandahar, delivering hockey equipment to them while there. On Tuesday night, he handed a black leather Sens jacket to Gen. Natynczyk.
"The Canadian Forces eat and sleep and breathe hockey," said Gen. Natynczyk, who presented Melnyk with a red 'Support Our Troops' jacket to show his appreciation. "No matter where we are around the world ... whenever I got and visit them, they'v got hockey shirts plastered all over and in the centre (of it) is the Ottawa Senators.
"Eugene (has) led the way in terms of NHL teams and our association and the great partnership that we have and based upon your leadership, all the rest of the teams have followed suit."
That support also extends to education. In January 2008, the Sens Foundation, in partnership with gold-level supporters of CF Night and the Military Families Fund, established an endowment fund that provides bursaries to assist Canadian Forces members and their families wishing to attend one of three Algonquin College campuses in the Ottawa region.
A cheque for $65,000 was contributed on Tuesday night, raising the two-year total in the fund — which is also supported by the province of Ontario — to $450,000. Thirteen students have already benefited from its support.