Visit from Sens 'Better than Christmas'

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

TO VIEW a Sun Media video of the Senators' visit to CHEO, CLICK THIS LINK.

On this day, in the CHEO cafeteria, it didn't matter if the Senators had lost seven straight or won two straight.

It didn't matter to 14-year-old Josee-Chantal Riel, who raised her hands to her mouth in a moment of trembling excitement as centre Mike Fisher knelt beside her wheelchair for a hug.

"I adore the Senators. Mike Fisher is my all-time favourite player," said Riel, autographed Senators' cards and a photo of her Fisher moment in her lap yesterday.

"This is like Christmas Day for her today," said her father, Jacques.

"This is better than Christmas," said Josee-Chantal.

Added Jacques: "This definitely helps the morale. It helps the recovery. I think this shows the kids they are just as important as anybody. This definitely helps the spirit of the kids."

The spirit of the Senators, too, and it is an interesting question, after listening to the players, who gets more out of this annual intersection of lives? They are people at either end of the fragile spectrum of health. The players, big and strong and vibrant; the kids, their bodies ravaged by their battles, some drawn and tired, many with intravenous pumps towering over them, tubes snaking up a sleeve of the hockey sweater of their favourite team.

'SAINT' NICK

It was a remarkable thing, more than the spirit of the season, that happened after the introductions and the songs, first by rookie forward "Saint" Nick Foligno, then the young patients, and the players moved into the rows of kids and their parents.

There was a transformation of the children and of the Senators themselves.

"Every year we come here, it touches home. They lift you up, all these kids," said winger Chris Neil, a new father in the last year. "They bring life back into you. It's amazing how they do it. You can't say enough about that, how upbeat they are. Whenever we leave here, we have a big smile on our faces and we're rejuvenated."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has a gift in this kind of situation. He knelt beside each upturned face, engaged the child in conversation, surely making the kids feel like they were the only people in the room.

"As adults, you look a lot of times at the negative rather than the positive," he said. "You see kids in pretty tough situations and the way they handle themselves. The way they smile and look at the positives. I think that's the biggest thing you can take out of this. It really gives you a lot of energy coming out of here," said Alfredsson.

"Seeing their reaction is the best thing."

"We're in here to try and help them have a happy day," added winger Dany Heatley. "Wins and losses don't really matter at this point."

No, they don't.

There will be plenty of time for that later.

"It kind of humbles you a little bit and puts things into perspective. Some of these kids are going through some tough times and it seems like they're always happy," said Fisher. "They can teach us a lot, too. We usually get a lot more out of it than the time we put into it because of these kids."

HEAR AND THERE: Heatley on Foligno's version of Jingle Bells (the rookies always have to sing to kick off things at CHEO): "Horrible. It was tough, though. He had to do it by himself. I think when I came here there were six or seven guys. Solo is tough." ... Alfredsson doesn't think the Senators are out of the woods on the ice yet: "I'm not too worried about over the hump or not. I don't think we're playing great. We've just got to find a way to win ... Coach John Paddock told the Team 1200 the goaltending situation is day-to-day. "We have three games in four nights (starting tomorrow in Carolina) and I'm not sure, but I think both (Ray Emery and Martin Gerber) will play."


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