There was a chill in the air on the morning of December 7. The blustery day felt like Christmas was long gone and the middle of winter was upon us. The sun hadn’t yet peaked over the horizon and the highways and stores were empty – except for one.
The New York Islanders shed their winter coats and ice skates and threw on their orange and blue sweaters inside the Toys“R”Us in Carle Place for the Islanders annual Holiday Hospital Toy Shopping event, sponsored by EmblemHealth. More than half the team came together to buy gifts for the area’s hospitalized children.
“This is one of the most touching events we participate in all year,” said Islanders Community Relations Manager Ann Rina. “It’s really important for the players to pick out the toys they actually bring to the hospitals. It makes it a little bit deeper of a connection and all the guys enjoy it. It’s an early morning, but once they get here, they have a lot of fun with it.”
Each player had their own strategy and teammate to work with. John Tavares
picked out video games, while Rick DiPietro
snagged Twilight DVD’s and Blake Comeau browsed board games. A few aisles down, PA Parenteau
was checking out hockey sticks and James Wisniewski was stocking up on Justin Bieber action figures.
Defenseman Mark Eaton
strolled through the aisles with his wife, Dorrie, filling their shopping carts with boxes upon boxes of dolls. The Eatons have two daughters of their own, giving them a leg up on some of the other players in deciding what toys were best. Even though the presents weren’t for their own little girls, the smiles never left either of their faces.
“It’s an opportunity for us to give back to the community,” Eaton said. “It’s one of the perks of being a professional athlete. Days like today are fun.”
When the cash registers finally cleared, the players had selected over 400 presents to distribute to children across six hospitals on Long Island.
None of the players seemed to have more fun than Zenon Konopka, who stacked his arms high with Barbie dolls and was heard over the Toys“R”Us loudspeaker more than once.
“Clean up in aisle five, PA Parenteau
spilled his latte,” Konopka chirped. “That’s clean up in aisle five.”
Konopka’s just a kid at heart and was being himself on this memorable day.
“You try to put yourself into their shoes to figure out what they would want,” Konopka told Islanders TV. “A lot of people say I act like a ten-year-old sometimes, so I used that to my advantage today and I think it worked out pretty well.”
The players loosened up in the toy store, joking with their teammates and family members who joined them, but never forgot how important the event was. These toys will go to a very special group of kids who need that extra bit of joy in their lives come the holiday season.
Islanders captain Doug Weight was joined by his wife, Allison, for the shopping spree. With three children of their own, helping out some young ones in need was a no-brainer.
“It’s a special day next week, being able to distribute these toys to the kids,” Weight said. “It’s a very humbling experience, especially at this time of the year with all the holidays coming up.”
That special day is December 14, when the entire roster will act like impromptu Santas and hand deliver the toys themselves.