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Community: Holiday Canes Community Day

by Staff Writer / Carolina Hurricanes
Katharine Kelley

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Our holiday ‘Canes Community Day is probably my favorite day of the year. The day involves four player/coach groups visiting hospitalized children and one player foursome shopping with children at Target. The entire team is involved in this day which also makes it very special during the holiday season. Even last year as an intern in the Community Relations Department, I remember how much the day resonated within me. And, it did this year as well.
Here’s a recap…
Hospital Visits
Doug, Anne, PJ, and I each took a group of players and coaches to the four main area hospitals: Duke Children’s Hospital, North Carolina Children’s Hospital at UNC, WakeMed, and Rex Hospital. Doug escorted Coach Maurice, Ray Whitney, Sergei Samsonov, Brandon Sutter, and Cam Ward to Rex Hospital, while PJ lead Captain Rod Brind’Amour, Matt Cullen, Scott Walker, Niclas Wallin, Tim Conboy, and Brett Carson to WakeMed (they were thwarted a bit due to an incident on the New Bern Avenue Bridge, but they made it their on time). Anne and I headed a little further down the road. Anne took Eric Staal, Chad LaRose, Ryan Bayda, Frank Kaberle, Anton Babchuk, and Dennis Seidenberg to UNC, and my group (Ron Francis, Justin Williams, Wade Brookbank, Patrick Eaves, and Michael Leighton) peeled off of I-40 to head to Duke Children’s Hospital.

At each hospital, the players were dressed in their Alternate Uniform Jerseys. The player/coach groups delivered Stormy Beanie Dolls and posters to hospitalized children in each of the hospitals. There is no way I can be in four places at once (I’ve tried, and it’s not possible), so here is a recap from my trip to Duke Children’s Hospital.

I had a great time watching the players work their charm on the kids at Duke. We got there around 2:00, made our way to the play room, and visited with kids for a few minutes before heading out to the individual patient rooms. Some of the kids in the playroom were upset that the players were leaving because they were in the middle of playing Wii (don’t worry, it all works out in the end).

The guys were absolutely amazing with the hospitalized kids. The entire group was excited to be there, and they were enthusiastic about surprising kids and allowing them to forget about their troubles for a brief time. From the parents and kids’ reactions, you could definitely tell that talking to the players, taking pictures, and receiving stormy dolls and posters really made their day.

After the entire group made our way through the first wing of rooms, Wade Brookbank and Michael Leighton decided they wanted to play with kids who are able in the playroom. They ended up playing UNO with a couple hospitalized children for about a half hour or so.

Meanwhile, Patrick Eaves, Justin Williams, and Ron Francis continued to make rounds. We poked our heads into a young girl’s room and asked if she wanted to meet the players. Confidently, she leaned up and said, “Do y’all want my autograph?” Clearly, this intrigued Patrick and Justin, so they got dressed up in hospital gowns and gloves and went in to talk to her (picture shown). She had the front page of the Fayetteville Observer on her bed table, and she was smack dab on the front page!

The feeling that these guys imposed on the patients at Duke (and, I’m sure at the other hospitals as well) is contagious. I was mostly there just facilitating the process, taking some pictures, and talking to a few kids…the players did all the work. And, for them, it wasn’t even work. It never appeared to be a chore. They wanted to be there. This was obvious when we were waiting for our cars to be returned to valet, and all the guys were talking about how much fun they had. They mentioned how sad it was to see some of the hospitalized children (especially since some of them have kids of their own), but at the same time, they were so grateful they were able to make people happy just by being themselves.

Target Shopping
Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, and Tuomo Ruutu did not go to a hospital, but instead, they opted to take a child shopping at the North Hills Target on Monday night. Each player was paired with one child and a personal target shopper who would help them find everything they needed. The four kids chosen for the shopping event came from the Durham Nativity School and Wake County Human Services (the Fuquay Varina Program).

Each player was given a $150 Target gift card complements of the Carolina Hurricanes. But, similar to last year, the players go over and beyond what they are asked to do. They urge the children to expand their wish list and stock up on Christmas gifts. Each player ends up paying money out of his pocket to cover the difference.

As I was walking around, I came up on Torian (a Durham Nativity School student) and Tuomo Ruutu who were trying to find shoes for his sister. Like most women, I love shoes. And, most men don’t know much about what we women look for in shoes (apologies if you do). Let’s just say when I walked up to the shoe section, not only were Ruutu and Torian dissecting all of the shoes, but also there was a caravan of other men following behind putting in their two cents. He definitely needed some female help, so Durham Nativity School’s social worker, Ms. Vanderbilt and I stepped in to provide some female insight.

One of my favorite things about the event is the selfless acts of not only the Hurricanes players but also the kids. The Durham Nativity School boys came prepared with lists of gifts for the families and only a few items for themselves. Joe Corvo was helping his shopping partner, Javoris, find earrings for his mom and stuffed animals for his younger brother. Similarly, Joni Pitkanen ended up purchasing a teething ring for his lucky shopper’s baby sister.All the players had to encourage and push the kids to think about things for themselves. Tuomo Ruutu acted on his suggestion of a ping pong table for Torian…his family might be moving the dining room table out and the ping pong table in.

All these guys created an unforgettable Christmas for these four boys and their families. These families would not have had the opportunity to receive gifts if it weren’t for the generosity of Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Tuomo Ruutu, and Tim Gleason.

Like I said before, this is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s a day full of simple, kind gestures that go a long way.

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