As capable as Justin Williams is at darting around opponents and finding open spaces of ice in the offensive zone, he was just as natural introducing himself and his teammates to patients and clients of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, many of whom are engaged in battles much more profound than the ones that the Kings face on the ice.
“We want to brighten the day any possible way, whether it be acting like a fool, or signing a stick, just doing something to put a smile on their face to take their mind off of why they’re here,” Williams said.
It isn’t an easy task, and the bravery shown by the children currently undergoing major medical procedures and rehabilitation is a representation of courage in its most sharply defined form.
“It’s a little eye-opening. Me and Mitchie were just talking – it really puts stuff in perspective,” Kyle Clifford said. “We’re fortunate enough to go to the rink every day and play hockey, and you come here and you see these kids that are kind of battling for their lives. It definitely puts things into perspective.”
The trio of Williams, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick visited patients on the sixth floor and spent several minutes with David, a 12-year-old who lost his father and underwent an amputation of his left leg following a car accident earlier in the month.
Reserved at first, David warmed quickly to the group and proudly announced he was a St. Louis Cardinals fan when asked if he followed baseball. It was a surprising declaration – but one that brought smiles to the three Kings in the room.
“You just have to make sure that when you walk in that they know who you are, and they know what you do, and ask them if it’s OK to have a picture with them,” Williams said. “But most of the reaction is great, and even if you can help just one kid throughout the day forget about the reason he’s here, then it’s worth it for coming.”
The visit touched on the personal experiences of certain players who have been on the other end of hospital visits.
“It definitely does,” Dustin Brown affirmed. “With my second one, Mason, he was nine weeks early, and he was in the hospital for a month. Unfortunately – and fortunately – I got to see how good hospitals can be, especially with young children. It makes a big difference not only for the kid, but I think for the parents as well. With a hospital like CHLA, it goes a long way. I think when you have kids, it kind of puts everything in perspective.”
The visit is one of several links between the team and the hospital. Dustin Brown brought the Stanley Cup to CHLA less than a month after the team hoisted it on home ice and paraded it down Figueroa Street, and the Platelets for Playoffs blood drive has developed into a major success every spring.
The partnership between the Kings and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles arose in the late 1980’s and was strengthened during the infancy of the Kings Care Foundation. Television color commentator Jim Fox, who created King Care, recalled a CHLA event early in Wayne Gretzky’s tenure with the team.
It was before the days of being tethered to an electronic device, and after concluding a practice in Culver City, he had lost track of Gretzky’s whereabouts. It had been planned that the superstar center would be a centerpiece of the presentation that day, but he was difficult to track down at that precise moment.
It didn’t take long for Fox to find Gretzky at the hospital.
“Wayne’s there, talking to all the nurses and doctors and all the kids, and having a great time. You heard the stories about Wayne being so conscientious, and that was my first personal experience with that. If you told him to be somewhere, he was going to be somewhere, and you really didn’t have to worry about it,” Fox said.
“He was new to Los Angeles, but everyone knew who he was. He was holding court, so to speak, with all the doctors and the nurses. There were some kids – it was in a main room before we went on a regular tour for the kids. He certainly had them captivated.”
Some 25 years later, that link between team and city remains strong.
“It’s really wonderful because Children’s Hospital is a key part of a community, and it’s one of the things that makes Los Angeles great,” said Pathologist in Chief, Dr. Alex Judkins. “So it’s fantastic to see the Kings come to our house, as it were, and it helps the kids who are here really know that people in the community know and thing about them, and feel connected to the stuff that reminds them about being healthy and happy in their lives.”
“One of the things that requires a little bit of thoughtfulness and grace and working with kids, is just to know that the good that you do, you don’t always see. It’s also great for the players to come, and hopefully they know what a huge difference they make, even though they might not see it right there at that moment in the room.”
Justin Williams, who will be featured riding to the rink with FOX Sports West reporter Alex Curry in a segment that will air during next week's Kings Weekly, spoke on behalf of the 23 players who made the trip.
“This is my favorite team thing that we do, because it involves children, and we can learn a lot from them in a lot of ways.”