Senators Soirée raises $278K for Ottawa youth

Hockey team owner Eugene Melnyk thanks crowd, predicts bright future for team

How do you grab the attention of chatty gala-goers when you need them to head to the ballroom for dinner?

Send in an eight-piece brass band. Its big noises will do the trick.

And, it was entirely appropriate for this year’s Senators Soirée, which showcased a fun and colourful Mardi Gras theme.

Senators Soirée
The Bank Street Bonbons brass band got everyone's attention during the tail end of the cocktail reception for the Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The evening, held Sunday at the Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau, brought together hundreds of business and community leaders and raised $278,000 in support of children and youth in our community.

The evening involved the participation of the Ottawa Senators hockey players, coaches and management, as well as owner Eugene Melnyk, who doesn't regularly attend the annual fundraiser.

 On hand were the foundation’s president, Danielle Robinson, and board president, Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Dan Greenberg, owner of Ferguslea Properties, and his wife, Barbara Crook, came dressed for the festive occasion.

Senators Soirée
From left, Ottawa Senators assistant captains Mark Stone and Dion Phaneuf with Danielle Robinson, Eugene Melnyk (who clearly knows which camera to look at), along with captain Erik Karlsson and Barbara Crook and Dan Greenberg from lead sponsor Ferguslea Properties at this year's Mardi Gras-themed Senators Soirée. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Ottawa Senators team owner Eugene Melnyk took an interest in the Mardi Gras mask that prominent philanthropist Barbara Crook, who's on the board of the Ottawa Senators Foundation, wore to this year's Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
From left, Alisha Hyder, 23, and her sister, Alaina Hyder, 18, are fans of Ottawa Senators player Bobby Ryan while their dad, Goldy Hyder, is board chair of the Ottawa Senators Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson with Danielle Robinson at the cocktail reception during the Senators Soirée, held Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson with Monica Singhal and her husband Kevin Yemm from the family-owned Richcraft Group of Companies, at the Senators Soirée, held in support of the Ottawa Senators Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Erik Karlsson with his wife, Melinda, who's expecting their first child this spring, along with Neil Malhotra, vice president at Claridge Homes, and his wife, Ainsley Malhotra, at the Mardi Gras-themed Senators Soirée in support of children and youth in our community. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Steve Spooner, chief financial officer at Mitel, and his wife, Donna, got into the spirit of this year's Mardi Gras theme at the Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk mixes with defenceman Mark Borowiecki and his wife, Tara, during the cocktail reception at the Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The Senators Soirée is the signature gala of the Ottawa Senators Foundation. It's the charitable arm of the hockey club. Its goal is to help children and youth reach their full potential by investing in social recreation and education programs that promote both their physical and mental wellness.

Melnyk took to the stage before dinner to deliver a big round of thank yous to the organizers and attendees, lead sponsors Ferguslea Properties and Bell, and to the hockey players, along with their wives and girlfriends, for taking time out of their busy schedules to volunteer their time for the foundation and the worthy causes that it supports.

Senators Soirée
Eugen Melnyk at the Senators Soirée held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

“We’re doing such wonderful things in this city to make sure that it’s a place where people can work, play and really get involved with the youth of the city,” said Melnyk.

He acknowledged that it’s been a “very tough season” for the team. “But, I can say without a doubt the future looks very, very bright for us.

“I really believe in this organization and the city, and that the team itself is going to right this ship and do very, very well for all the fans and the city in the future,” said Melnyk, whose comments elicited applause from the audience.

Senators Soirée
From left, Brian Crombie, the acting chief financial officer at Senators Sports & Entertainment, with Ian Sherman, partner and tax practice market leader with Ernst & Young, and Geoff Publow, vice-president of strategic development at Senators Sports & Entertainment, at this year's Mardi Gras-themed Senators Soirée, held Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
From left, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion and Melanie Baillargeon with Steffanie Bilodeau and her husband, Frank Bilodeau, district vice-president for Scotiabank and an Ottawa Senators Foundation board member, at the Senators Soirée, held Sunday, February 11, 2018, at the Hilton Lac Leamy.
Senators Soirée
Assistant captain Dion Phaneuf dined at a table with Bell senior executive and Ottawa Senators Foundation board member Mirko Bibic and his wife, Jackie Philippoussis, at this year's Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The crowd also heard from team captain Erik Karlsson, who is expecting his first child, a boy, this spring with his wife, Melinda. The Swedish-born superstar defenceman stumbled briefly over a couple of words but humorously apologized for what he referred to as his “Swenglish.”

“I think it’s events like this that remind us that life is more than just hockey, and how great of an impact we can have by being part of this community and by doing the things that we’re doing here tonight,” said Karlsson.

“As Melinda and I begin the journey to start a family of our own, I think that this event is a great personal reminder of how important it is for us to give back to help give these children a chance to grow and succeed.”

Senators Soirée
Erik Karlsson, captain of the Ottawa Senators, welcomes guests to the annual Senators Soirée held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Returning to host the evening was radio personality and Ottawa Senators PA announcer "Stuntman" Stu Schwartz, who is never at a loss for what to wear to these things.

“I know, you’re all looking at me going, ‘Is this guy dressed as a pimp?’” he joked on stage while conspicuously dressed in a mix of golds and purples. 

Senators Soirée
"Stuntman" Stu Schwartz didn't hold back with his Mardi Gras-themed costume at this year's Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The $500-a-ticket night featured a cocktail reception with players from the Ottawa Senators, followed by a dinner featuring blackened beef tenderloin with grilled prawn and a special New Orleans-themed bread pudding for dessert.

The professional athletes were introduced by Schwartz to the audience while the team's theme sang played and the audience cheered. The players and their dates then made their way across the stage – giving friendly waves and smiles to the crowd – before heading down the stairs to join one of the tables for dinner. 

Senators Soirée
Sens player Zack Smith and his wife, Britt, walk hand-in-hand across the stage as they're introduced to the audience at the Mardi Gras-themed Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Defenceman Johnny Oduya and his girlfriend Alexandra Berhe make their way across the stage during the Senators Soirée, held Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
Sens player Mike Hoffman and his fiancée Monika Caryk make their way across the stage during the Senators Soirée, held Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The evening's live auction items included: an Arctic cruise to Greenland and Baffin Island, courtesy of One Ocean Expeditions; a trip to New Orleans; an opportunity to bring a minor hockey team to the Canadian Tire Centre for a 45-minute on-ice practice led by head coach Guy Boucher; and a group round of golf with general manager Pierre Dorion at the Camelot Golf & Country Club in Cumberland.

Among the raffle prizes was a one-week stay at the Grand Isle Resort and Spa in Exuma, Bahamas, donated by Peter Nicholson of The Foundation (WCPD).

Senators Soirée
Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher with his wife, Marsha Akkerhuis, a board member with the Ottawa Senators Foundation, at the Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
From left, assistant captain Dion Phaneuf with captain Erik Karlsson and assistant captain Mark Stone, along with teammate Nate Thompson at the Senators Soirée, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy on Sunday, February 11, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Senators Soirée
The public got a chance to meet some of the wives and girlfriends of the Sens players, including, from left, Nancy Burrows (wife of Alex Burrows), Ashley Duchene (wife of Matt Duchene), Alexandra Berhe (girlfriend of Johnny Oduya) and Sydney Kaplan (fiancée of Nate Thompson) at Senators Soirée held at the Hilton Lac Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips

– caroline@obj.ca