Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk dead at 62 after an illness

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has died from an illness, the team said Monday night. He was 62. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Horse breeder, philanthropist 'loved nothing more than cheering on his beloved team'

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk died Monday, according to a statement from the team. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has died from an illness, the team said Monday night. He was 62. 

The Senators made the announcement Monday night. The cause of death was not immediately known.

"It is with great sadness that the family of Eugene Melnyk and the Ottawa Senators hockey organization announce his passing on March 28, 2022 after an illness he faced with determination and courage," the team said in a statement. "Eugene never wavered in his desire and commitment to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation's capital.

"Under his ownership, the Senators played in the 2007 Stanley Cup finals and the Conference Finals in 2017. Eugene was confident the current team of talented players and coaching staff that he and his organization built will challenge for and eventually deliver on that championship promise."

Melnyk, a Toronto native, has owned the Senators since 2003. In 2007, Ottawa reached the Stanley Cup final before losing in five games to the Anaheim Ducks.

While successful in business, it was our game and his Senators he was most passionate about.— NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Melnyk

In a statement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman paid tribute to Melnyk.

"The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk," Bettman said. "The words 'passion' and 'commitment' define the man who has owned the Ottawa Senators since 2003.

"While successful in business, it was our game and his Senators that he was most passionate about. Eugene was often outspoken but he maintained an unwavering commitment to the game and his roots and he loved nothing more than donning a Senators sweater and cheering on his beloved team.

"On behalf of the entire National Hockey League, I extend my deepest sympathies to Eugene's daughters, Anna and Olivia, his extended family, and all those who benefited from his generosity."

In 2003, Melnyk purchased the Senators and Canadian Tire Centre for $130 million US after reaching a deal with creditors. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In 2015, Melnyk had a liver transplant at the Toronto General Hospital. He was reportedly mere days away from death before a suitable donor was found.

4-year playoff drought

Melnyk purchased the Senators and Canadian Tire Centre for $130 million US after reaching a deal with creditors. He also was a former owner of the St. Michael's Majors of the Ontario Hockey League.

Melnyk put in an offer for the Senators after Rod Bryden's deal to reacquire the franchise was unsuccessful.

Senators captain Brady Tkachuk tweeted words of condolence Monday night.

The Senators appeared in the NHL playoffs nine times during Melnyk's ownership tenure. But Ottawa hasn't reached the post-season since 2017 when it lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins four games to three in the Eastern Conference final.

Melnyk was the owner, governor and chairman of the Senators and Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League. He was also the founder and former chairman of Biovail Corp., once Canada's largest pharmaceutical company.

More recently, he was chairman and chief executive of Neurolign, a fledgling medical device company and chairman of Clean Beauty Collective, a boutique company that produces ethically sourced products.

He was also an Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Armed Forces.

"Eugene supported the military and honoured Canada's Armed Forces regularly during Senators' hockey games," said the Senators' statement. "He visited the troops in Afghanistan, delivering hockey equipment and souvenirs, and served as Honorary Colonel of the 414 [EWS] Squadron from 2014 to 2019."

Avid horse breeder, philanthropist

Melnyk also supported numerous charitable causes, including St. Joseph's Health Centre, Help Us Help the Children and St. Michael's College School in Toronto, his alma mater. He later resided in Barbados, where he founded Providence School for pre-kindergarten to Grade 10 and served as chairman of trustees and the board of management.

With Melnyk's assistance, the Senators Community Foundation invested over $100 million to support local charities and community programs that help children and youth across the region. He was the lead donor of Anna House, a childcare facility in Belmont, N.Y., and Roger Nielson House, a pediatric palliative care facility in Ottawa named after the former Senators coach.

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, who sparred publicly with the late Senators owner over the 2019 collapse of a development deal that would have seen a new arena built in the city's downtown core, offered his condolences to Melnyk's family and colleagues.

"While we didn't always see eye to eye on some issues, I was always appreciative that Mr. Melnyk stepped forward to keep the [Senators] in Ottawa, solidifying the organization's place as an integral part of our city," Watson said in a tweet.

Melnyk was also a successful thoroughbred horse-racing breeder, twice being named Canada's top owner. His horses won all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, including Archers Bay capturing the '98 Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes en route to being named Canada's champion three-year-old male horse.

Archers Bay was named after an area known for sunsets in northwest Barbados. The colt was the first horse Melnyk ever ran in the Queen's Plate and the victory confirmed his decision to spend $125,000 for the son of Silver Deputy at a Kentucky yearling sale.

"Eugene Melnyk was a true Canadian sportsman, one of our leading owners, and a dear friend of Woodbine and the horse racing industry here in Ontario," Woodbine Racetrack CEO Jim Lawson said in a statement.

In 2013, Melnyk reduced his horse-racing operation and went from breeding to purchasing yearlings and racing those instead. Melnyk was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2017.

With files from The Canadian Press