By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 27 2018
Tears welled up in Barb Davies’s eyes watching the 40 children mostly from Wilberforce Elementary School meet with Haliburton’s Matt Duchene after he helped the Ottawa Senators beat the New York Rangers 6-3 in a matinee on Feb. 17 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.
A group of some 40 students and close to 20 of their parents made the one-day round trip by bus to Ottawa to see an NHL game. The Highlands group stayed for close to an hour with Duchene who answered questions and signed autographs for every boy and girl including one “little” of a Big Brother pair. Duchene even signed a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey which had everyone laughing including him.
Davies a vice-principal for Wilberforce Elementary School and an educator for 20 years said it was probably the best field trip she has ever been on. Following the 6-3 win the students got to meet Duchene.
“Just watching the kids’ eyes looking up at Matt and looking into his eyes. The kids were starstruck” she said. “It brought tears to my eyes because I watched him meet every individual student and he gave them time and compassion and he talked to them with interest. I just thought wow what a classy athlete.”
For many of the students from Grade 4 it was their first time meeting with a famous celebrity. Every child was covered for tickets the bus trip and given a Senators tuque which they wore in the stands. There were close to 40 adults who paid for their own tickets.
Being from Haliburton she said added to the experience for the students and a few said it had been the best day of their lives.
Although Duchene could only meet with the children the parents were allowed to watch and photograph their children meeting him in a designated area in the 100 section near the glass.
“It was good for everybody. It worked out really well” she said.
OPP Const. Robin Carmount would rather not get any credit but like Davies felt great satisfaction seeing the reaction from the children when they met with Duchene.
He is responsible for the idea and for the co-ordination of the trip which was rooted in Duchene’s trade to Ottawa. The effort included initiating contact with the Senators to securing the tuques and block of tickets then contacting Vince Duchene for a possible meeting with Duchene and acquiring the necessary sponsors to fund the trip that was capped off with a pizza dinner in Renfrew.
Davies understood the special nature of this trip when she was first contacted by Carmount.
“I was very thrilled to think that someone wanted to do that for Wilberforce school and the second thought that went through my head was this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. An opportunity they never would have had before and I was very thrilled” she said.
Davies said even getting to ride on a coach bus was a treat for the students.
“Some of them when they were getting on the bus said ‘Do we have the right bus? Wow are you sure about this?’” she said.
None of this was possible without the generous support of community sponsors such as Walkers Home Hardware Curry Chevrolet the Royal Canadian Legion Wilberforce Branch 624 Rotary Club of Minden Hudson Henderson Insurance and two anonymous individual donors.
Carmount and Davies can’t thank them enough for their contributions to make this trip which cost close to $5000 possible.
“They made it happen. It was super” Carmount said.
Carmount said any money left over will help to pay for aging equipment and other related costs for the twice-monthly youth nights he has run since last year. This night provides area children an opportunity to exercise and socialize at the Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre in Wilberforce.
The trip was open to the entire school. Close to half the students chose to go he adds.
The Wilberforce students were given special permission by the Senators to hold up a banner in the stands made by County Sign and Display who went above and beyond as they always do for community events said Carmount. He appreciates all the work they did to get the sign ready adding last minute details and doing it in time for the trip.
It even drew the attention of Duchene during the game who mentioned it during the meet and greet.
“It was great to have the Wilberforce students down to see a game. For me my hometown means so much that I try and give back as much as possible. It was easy for me to take the time to say ‘hey’ to them. They were all such nice kids. The banner was awesome. It always means the world to have my hometown behind me and supporting me” he wrote in an email days after.
There was plenty of cheering for Duchene by the students. They not only applauded him for his connection to the Highlands but also his quality performance. He scored a goal and added an assist earning the second star of the game.
However if you ask the students and the adults there would be no doubt Duchene deserved a first star of the game for giving his time and for bringing a highlight to a great and unforgettable day.