ST. LOUIS - Nick Peppers hasn’t had much to smile about these days.
After undergoing spinal surgery last Friday, a few complications in the recovery process have kept him at St. Louis Children’s Hospital longer than he had expected.
But Wednesday was different.
Shortly after hearing he would finally be discharged and home for the holidays, he got a visit from Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, Assistant Coach Ray Bennett, Video Coach Danny Brooks and Blues mascot, Louie.
Now, he can’t stop smiling.
“It made me happy,” Peppers said. “You don’t get something like this very much, so it’s fun and exciting. It makes your day better.”
For nearly two hours on Wednesday, the Blues coaching staff visited hospitalized patients at Children’s Hospital, taking time to bring gifts of autographed pucks, photos and Louie tug-a-lug dolls. The coaches posed for photos with the children and their families and shared stories ranging from hockey, sports in general and even a few rounds of Civil War history trivia.
“We’re the lucky ones. We get to come and have a few laughs with people. This isn’t an obligation, it’s a pleasure for us,” Hitchcock said following Wednesday’s visit. “That’s one good thing between players and coaches and everybody, we love doing this stuff. We look forward to this. Any chance you get to give back to the community is a real beneficial day.”
Added Bennett, “It’s good to see these smiles. It’s good to see them brighten up, and it’s not just the kids, but sometimes the parents, too. If it helps a little bit, that’s good, and it’s the very least we can offer back.”
Blues coaches, players and staff visit children’s hospitals several times throughout the year, but the holiday hospital visits have become a longstanding tradition for the organization.
In fact, when Peppers was previously hospitalized when he was only 10 months old, the Blues came to visit then, too. Although he doesn’t remember the visit, he still has the Blues T-shirt and the teddy bear the players brought to him.
“This is a reality check for us,” Hitchcock said. “You go home, you’re proud at the little bit you could do, but you realize that people have it a lot worse off than you do and you feel for them. For anybody in hockey, this is a really emotional experience for us to come here.”
Added Brooks, “We’re really lucky people. We are very fortunate and I wish we could do more. To give these kids some hope and joy in their lives is the best and most important thing.
“There are things that are important than hockey.”