Former Sens stalwart Phillips to lead team's new community foundation

Chris Phillips
Former Ottawa Senators defenceman Chris Phillips has been named head of the team's new charitable organization, the Senators Community Foundation. Photo courtesy Ottawa Senators Hockey Club

The Ottawa Senators have turned to one of the most popular players in franchise history to be the face of their new charitable organization.

The NHL club unveiled its new Senators Community Foundation Wednesday morning, tapping former defenceman Chris Phillips to lead the group as its executive director. 

The new organization replaces the former Ottawa Senators Foundation, which officially ended its relationship with the NHL club at the end of July and now operates as the Ottawa-Gatineau Youth Foundation.

The club said the Senators Community Foundation plans to support local organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Roger Neilson House and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ottawa. 

In Phillips, the new organization believes it has a leader who will give it instant credibility. 

Affectionately known to Senators fans as “Big Rig,” the 6-foot-3 Alberta native suited up for nearly 1,200 games in an Ottawa uniform, gaining a reputation as a steady, stay-at-home defenceman on the ice and a tireless community ambassador off it.

Phillips and his wife Erin have become fixtures of the Ottawa charity scene, devoting time to more than 20 local organizations including Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Support Programs, CHEO and Movember Canada. When wildfires decimated Phillips’s hometown of Fort McMurray in 2016, the former NHLer was quick to rally to the devastated city’s cause.

“We are extremely proud to have Chris Phillips lead our foundation as he personifies what a community leader is all about,” Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said in a statement. 

“From being our first overall pick in 1996, to his 17 remarkable seasons that led to his jersey retirement earlier this year, he’s a natural fit for this role. His energy, enthusiasm and his community involvement will take our foundation to a whole new level.”

Big Rig Brewery owner

Phillips, who spent the past five years as the Senators’ director of community and business development and was one of the original owners of Ottawa’s Big Rig Brewery, thanked the club for giving him a “tremendous opportunity” to serve his adopted home.

“I’ve worked with many great community leaders and organizations over the years, and I look forward to continuing those relationships and developing new programs that will help those who are truly in need,” he said in a statement.

The new organization was launched in the wake of what appeared to be an acrimonious split between the Senators and the foundation that previously bore its name.    

The Senators Foundation announced in early June that its relationship with the NHL club would end this summer. The team said then it planned to launch a bidding process “to explore alternative options to further its philanthropic endeavours.”

The hockey club said it had informed the foundation months earlier that it would invite other organizations to submit proposals to partner with the Senators on philanthropic initiatives. According to the team, the foundation’s leadership group “protested and informed the Ottawa Senators they would not comply with an RFP process.”

The former Senators Foundation built a high profile in the Ottawa region, thanks to glitzy fundraisers such as the annual Sens Soir​ée and its work with endeavours such as Roger Neilson House, a hospice for pediatric palliative care at CHEO.

In the past five years alone, the foundation raised more than $31 million through direct donations, sponsorships, various events and sales of 50-50 tickets at Sens home games.

The organization also has strong ties to the capital’s business community, including through several high-profile board members such as chair Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, and vice-chair Ian Sherman, a partner in EY’s Ottawa office and the chair of the Ottawa Board of Trade.