By Jason Lockhart
On Wednesday, all of the Islanders traveled to eight different Long Island hospitals to help bring holiday cheer to boys and girls most in need of it during this season.
Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and Bruno Gervais traveled to the Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, the largest of its kind on Long Island. Upon entering the building, children of all ages gathered around to meet the Islanders, who were recognized even while wearing their street clothes.
Youngster Matthew Brooks spotted Gervais and began talking to him as he waited for the others to arrive. Their conversation ranged from talking about playing for the Islanders to how to spell the word "Chanukah." By the time they were done talking, Matthew had made a new friend, and told Gervais he'd see him again at an upcoming Islanders practice.
Yashin, Blake and Gervais accompanied by Sparky moved upstairs to one of the playrooms, where a few children were playing, including Alessandro Petrucci, who enjoyed hanging out with the players and Sparky.
"I really like Sparky because he's funny," said Alessandro.
"This is a big highlight for the kids, who of course don't want to be here," added Zully Petrucci, Alessandro's mother. "I think it's a great idea to have the Islanders here. It makes it fun for the kids to be here."
After fielding questions from News 12 and Islanders TV, it was off to brighten the days of even more children, who were resting in their beds. Some of the areas contained children with illnesses too contagious to even touch, but everyone got a chance to at least say hi to the players and give them a smile.
Games and toys for all ages were distributed to the children to help make this holiday season even more special. With sharpies in hand, the Islanders signed dozens of pictures, pucks and other Islanders memorabilia, so that the children could keep just a small piece of the visit with them for life.
"It's been great having the Islanders here," said Michelle Neuhaus, director of child life and education services at Schneider Children's Hospital. "They bring smiles to the kids because children love to see celebrities and athletes. It was a wonderful experience for them and it made everyone's day. The kids enjoyed getting all the Islanders souvenirs because so many of them are Islanders fans."
Over at the Stony Brook Hospital, Ashley Lyons received a big surprise from Viktor Kozlov and Mike Dunham, a giant teddy bear, which she couldn't get enough of. You can see a picture of her in the photo gallery with her new toy.
Meanwhile, at the South Nassau Communites Hospital in Oceanside, Andy Hilbert and Richard Park were assisted by Ray Mohler, a little boy who has formed his own foundation and collected over $125,000 worth of toys for sick children. Ray showed the room where all the toys were kept and helped Hilbert and Park pick out the toys to deliver to the kids in the hospital.
Back at Schneider Children's Hospital, Yashin discussed what it was like to visit the hospital during the holidays.
"It's good to be here, so we can help with the recovery," said Yashin. "If you can put a smile on their face and make them feel better, you hope they'll get better quicker. I'm glad I can help with that. They're all big hockey fans and big Islanders fans and it's great for them to see us in real life."
After all was said and done and the Islanders were on their way out, Matthew Brooks was still in the lobby waiting to say goodbye to his new friend Gervais, who reflected on his visit.
"It's been a surreal experience," said Gervais. "Just to see Matthew have a nice smile on his face and laughing. It's all about the kids having a great time."
Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park: Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and Bruno Gervais
Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow: Miroslav Satan, Shawn Bates and Trent Hunter
Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola: Rick DiPietro, Arron Asham and Tom Poti
Stony Brook Hospital in Stony Brook: Viktor Kozlov and Mike Dunham
Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip: Brendan Witt, Alexei Zhitnik, Sean Hill
Henry Viscardi School: The National Center for Disabilities in Albertson: Chris Simon and Mike York.
South Nassau Communities Hospital: Richard Park and Andy Hilbert
North Shore University Hospital: Radek Martinek