Josh Bailey, Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy and Brock Nelson had already done their good deed for the day when they were leaving Nassau University Hospital on Wednesday.
On their way out to the parking lot, they were approached by an Islanders fan heading in. She was coming to see her sister, also an Islanders fan, who had been at the hospital for three weeks after being badly burned in a housefire. She said that just knowing the Islanders were coming had helped her sister get through the traumatic experience, even if she wasn’t going to meet them.
The four Islanders did an about-face and went back in. No cameras, no prompts, just good intensions and a sense of responsibility.
“She was obviously in some pain, so that was one of the more special moments of the day for us,” Bailey said. “To be able to say hi, talk to her, sign her jersey and give her a few minutes of our time. It seemed like it meant a lot to her.”
The teammates presence – plus Isles hats, t-shirts and toys – was enough to light up an entire ward, but that’s not always the case. Some kids get shy when meeting professional hockey players and some aren’t even hockey fans, but Hickey said it’s about connecting with them as Thomas, not as a defenseman.
“Some people don’t watch hockey and that’s fine,” Hickey said. “In those cases you’re just there to be a friend, someone that brings a good attitude, you’re not there to be a hockey player, you just try to light up someone’s day. We’re a part of the community. When people feel the support, we feel it right back.”
While they are receiving some of the best care in the world, the hospital still isn’t a place these kids or their families want to be. The Islanders went to six hospitals Wednesday to try and take the young patients of the moment.
“I always try to crack a couple of jokes and see if I can put a smile on one of their faces,” Travis Hamonic said. “I can’t comprehend what they are going through and I’ll never even try to understand because I couldn’t. But if I can maybe come in and crack a smile, try to get their mind off it just for a minute, then that’s my responsibility as an athlete.”
Hamonic and other Islanders are great with engaging the kids, but they’ve had their practice reaching out to people going through tough times. They are a part of a highly-involved Islanders team that hosts kids to games at Nassau Coliseum and have had hundreds of one-on-one interactions with young fans during the season.
“Some want to talk about what’s going on, some don’t,” Matt Martin said. “The important thing is to never upset anyone or make them feel uncomfortable. For the most part, you try to figure them out. You get an Islanders fan or someone who plays hockey; they want to talk about the standings. If not, that’s fine to, you try to be respectful and understanding to what’s going on in their lives.”
Of course, some do want to talk about their current situation. Hamonic, Martin and Frans Nielsen met with a 12-year-old figure skater who was in the hospital with a broken leg. Their shared love of skating formed an immediate bond, as was their shared practice facility, Islanders Iceworks in Syosset.
She told them she could pull off double jumps and would be working towards triples when her leg healed. She told them if she could pull it off she’d have a chance to qualify for the Olympics.
“It’s a tough day and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to go into some of those rooms and see those young kids on the machines,” Hamonic said. “It’s tough to see and puts things in perspective pretty quickly. You realize the strength, perseverance and courage these kids have is second to none. Certainly if we had a hockey team made up of these kids’ character, that’d be pretty special.”
Judging by Wednesday’s hospital visits, the Islanders already have a high-character team.