Canadian veterans get the NHL experience with Ottawa Senators alumni through Soldier On program

Canadian veterans are getting the NHL experience through the Soldier On program, as they take on Ottawa Senators alumni at the Canadian Tire Centre Wednesday.

Bruno Mathieu is participating in the event for a second time.

"We had a chance to come here for a hockey camp with the Ottawa Senators and their alumni," said Mathieu.

He served for 28 years, but had to retire when he got sick.

"It was a big family to me and to my family also, and suddenly we're left you know. I had to get kicked out because of cancer," said Mathieu.

He suffers from PTSD and his service dog helps him through tough times.

The Soldier On event is a three-day program that allows veterans to watch the Sens practice, participate in a meet-and-greet lunch with current players, and it culminates in a hockey game against the Sens alumni.

"It's just an amazing opportunity. And it’s sure to reignite the passion for sport and an active lifestyle to help these women and men along their roads to recovery," said Joe Kiraly, Soldier On Acting National Manager.

The Soldier On Sens program started in 2017 but had to take a two year hiatus due to COVID-19. This is its first year back and the veterans and alumni couldn't be more excited.

"It's great for the alumni to interact with them, you know, to be able to kind of give back. And really for us it's a thank you for everything that they've done, and do for us," said former Ottawa Senator Chris Phillips.

Sens defenceman Nick Holden was part of Tuesday’s meet-and-greet lunch.

"For us to be able to give up a little bit of our time today to come and talk with them and hear some of their stories and hear their excitement for the game of hockey, which is something that we love, is pretty cool," said Holden.

"The biggest things that I'm seeing so far is just the investment from the alumni. The coaches that we had yesterday, guys like Chris Neil and Darren Rumble, having them sit in the room with you, getting dressed and talking afterwards, talking about experiences. Everybody said amazing things so far. It's been really good," said Lt.-Col. Dave Wood.

"We had a practice yesterday, it was really good and we had a lot of fun, you know, and we're sore this morning," said Mathieu.

After Monday's practice, 17 veterans are set to take to the ice Wednesday against the Sens alumni as they continue on their road to recovery through sport and recreation.