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Kids hit the ice and learn from the best at Ottawa Senators 'I Love to Skate' program

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Sunday was Ilkyaz Otan's first time at the Canadian Tire Centre and she's taking it all in from centre ice.

"It feels good," said the eight-year-old, who is new to the sport.

For weeks, she’s been learning how to skate through the 'I Love to Skate' program, an initiative between the Ottawa Sens Community Foundation, the City of Ottawa and Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities.

"Jumpstart funded the equipment, the helmets and skates for every child," said Jumpstart Charities regional manager Eric Cartlidge. "There was over 250 kids, so 250 helmets and 250 skates."

The program chooses kids from 15 priority neighbourhoods in the city. Not only do they get the equipment for free, but skating lessons funded by the Ottawa Sens Community Foundation.

Learning how to stop, skate backwards and go fast are just some of the lessons given by qualified instructors like Jordan Draper.

"It’s really incredible giving them the chance to learn," said Draper, who's been an instructor with the City of Ottawa for four years.

"Seeing them from falling every day, then throughout the winter on their own skating, it's incredible."

Since 2010, the program has assisted more than 4,000 children in the Ottawa.

"Hockey is such a huge part of our community and this is a way for these children to be included," said Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

"You can see the joy on their faces and you can see how excited they are to have this Canadian experience to be skating in an NHL arena like this. It's something I never got to do as a kid."

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