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Safety first has taken on a life of its own for the Ottawa Senators.

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Friday, the Senators and the Ottawa Police Service gave back to the community.

After every win last season, the Senators awarded the ‘Player of the game’ with a bike helmet and glasses. Through the course of the year, the player was selected by the recipient after the club’s last win and it turned out to be something the dressing room had some fun with.

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On Dec. 14 after the club’s 8-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on the road, defenseman Nick Holden was given the award and uttered the words “Safety first” and it was a moment that went viral on the club’s social media channels.

The 35-year-old veteran blueliner, a father of four, and his family partnered with the OPS to purchase 200 helmets that will be donated to different youth. The buckets will be handed out as part of the annual bike rodeos throughout the summer.

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The recipients Friday were kids from Bayshore Public School. The children on hand had a chance to receive helmets from Holden, Senators’ top prospect defenseman Jake Sanderson and members of the OPS Neighborhood Resource team.

“We wanted to partner with the police,” Holden said Friday at Bayshore Park Rink. “It kind of stemmed from the joke about the ‘Safety first’ thing and then we had an idea afterwards about doing something like this. It’s great to be partnered with an initiative by the police and get out in the community.”

Holden and his family are avid cyclists so it was easy for them to get involved.

Ottawa Senators defenseman Nick Holden helps 9 year old Abdil Bari learn to ride a bike after bike helmets were given to neighborhood kids.
Ottawa Senators defenseman Nick Holden helps 9 year old Abdil Bari learn to ride a bike after bike helmets were given to neighborhood kids. Photo by ERROL MCGIHON /POSTMEDIA

“As a kid I rode my bike everywhere,” Holden said. “I have four kids that love to be out riding their bikes because it gives them a little bit of that freedom and confidence that I think is good for kids to get. You want them to make sure they’re safe while they’re doing it.

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“You don’t want something good to turn into something that could have been avoided.”

If you’re wondering about the history of the helmet and glasses, here’s the Coles Notes version: It was a Hallowe’en costume the players thought might be fun to use after every victory.

It actually ended up taking on a special meaning of significance.

Center Tim Stuetzle gave the award to winger Austin Watson after he reached his third year of sobriety following the club’s 5-0 win over the Buffalo Sabers in January. In a lot of ways, it showed how much Watson means to the team and the respect these players have for each other.

“As the season progressed, I think the helmet took on more meaning,” said Holden.

Smith was asked to explain in January why the club used a helmet and glasses?

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“The boys kind of picked it up along the way,” said Smith. “To me, it simplifies that this is a long race. It’s like the Tour de France, it’s not just one race, you’ve got to win them all.

“We’re starting at the bottom of the hill. In order to get to the end, how many races in the Tour de France? There’s going to be a lot of steps and we’re just starting our journey but to me this is a group that feels they can get it done in the long run. We’re at the start of the race and we want to be at the top at the end.”

Slowly, but surely, life is returning to normal.

With COVID-19, it’s been nearly impossible for the Senators to get their players into the community the last two years. It was nice to see Holden and Sanderson get the opportunity to spend some time with the kids.

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“Seeing people in person is something the guys on the team are focused on,” Holden said. “We want to get back out in the community and connect with everybody. That’s a big part of what we do is connect to our fans and the people who really take us in.

“It’s great for myself and Jake to be here today and it’s something that’s going to be really fun for us to be a part of.”

POSSIBILITY OF A MOVE DOWNTOWN IS EXCITING FOR THE SENATORS

A day after the Ottawa Senators won preferred bidder status from the National Capital Commission for a new arena at LeBreton Flats, there was still excitement in the air.

Defenseman Nick Holden, who is signed through next season, knows it was a big step in the right direction for the franchise to get the right to build a new rink at the land located 10 minutes West of Parliament Hill during Thursday’s NCC board of directors meeting .

“It’s just about accessibility for everybody,” Holden said Friday. “The energy I’ve heard from the people that I’ve spoken with, whether it’s parents at my kid’s school or friends that we know that live here, everybody’s really excited about it.

“A few years ago it shut down a little bit but people are excited about this possibility.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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