Emotional night for NHL stars at Roger's House;
NHL player Chris Neil and wife, Caitlin, named honourary co-chairs of palliative facility
Former Ottawa Senator Mike Fisher passed the torch as honourary chair of Roger's House to his old teammate, Chris Neil, during an emotional ceremony Wednesday night.
Fisher was back in town for the first time since he was traded to the Nashville Predators in February and he said it felt good to return to a place he calls a "second home."
"I feel like I'll always be part of this community in one way or another," Fisher said at a reception at Roger's House with friends, families, donors and other invited guests. "It is special to be back and to be here at Roger's House and this special event."
Roger's House, a palliative care and respite care residence for children, was built in honour of Roger Neilson, a much-loved assistant coach with the Senators who died of cancer in 2003. It is located next to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and it relies on the Sens Foundation for 30 per cent of its operating budget.
Fisher, who described Neilson as a mentor and shared some memories of him, has been honourary chair since the residence opened in 2005. Now that he lives in Nashville with his wife, country singer Carrie Underwood, Fisher is passing on the title to his good friend and former teammate, Chris Neil, who will co-chair with his wife, Caitlin.
'The hardest part is saying goodbye to people.'—Former Ottawa Senators player Mike Fisher
"I've met so many great families and kids here over the years and I'll definitely miss it," Fisher said. "I'll always support Roger's House and be part of it."
Fisher said he misses Ottawa fans, the city and all the friendships he made over the last decade. "The hardest part is saying goodbye to people," he said.
Tribute paid to Fisher
He was thanked for his dedication to the facility in several speeches by representatives of Roger's House and Senators Sports and Entertainment. He was also given a framed necktie that had been decorated by children at the residence.
"We know that you have an extraordinary ability to inspire both parents and children and that you've embraced Roger's House since its inception. For that, we'll be forever grateful," said Erin Crowe, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Senators Sports.
Fisher spoke about the close relationship he and Neil share, adding that while his former teammate is tough on the ice, he has a huge heart, making Neil and his wife perfect choices to serve as ambassadors for Roger's House.
Fisher's speech brought Neil to tears. "This is a very special and touching evening for Caitlin and me," he said. "This being such an important piece of his life, what's important to Mike is what's important to me, too."
Neil has accompanied Fisher on his visits to the residence in recent years and said he knows how important it is to the families who use it. "Obviously there are some sad times here, but when you come in the door there's an upbeat feeling, there's always smiles on people's faces," he said.
Neil said his involvement so far with the palliative and respite care home has made him strive to be a better person. "You see what these kids are going through and you just want to do whatever you can to help out," he said.
Following the ceremony, Fisher and Neil mingled with guests and posed for photos.