When Brad Richards scores a goal at the St. Pete Times Forum a cheer rises from the crowd, the red light flashes and the goal horn sounds. Tucked into a corner of the arena is a suite that replicates the celebration on a smaller scale, with the fans inside cheering not only Richards the hockey player, but Richards the friend.
The suite is part of an outreach effort called Richy's Rascals. Through the program, children who are battling cancer are invited to Tampa Bay Lightning games to get a moment away from their daily stresses to relax in a fun, family-friendly environment.
Entering the suite is like walking into a dream playroom. Aside from having one of the best views of the ice, the room is outfitted with its own red light for private goal celebrations. There's also a giant net on a wall that surrounds a large television which is hooked to a PlayStation gaming system.
The room itself is painted from top-to-bottom thanks to the help of professional artists and children from local pediatric cancer facilities. On one wall of the room is a map of the world which highlights the Seven Wonders of the World and all the places Richards has played in his career. A trip to the bathroom is like stepping into the Lightning dressing room - with jerseys already painted on the wall. The plan is to rip up the tiles and paint the floor to look like the logo-emblazoned carpet in the Lightning locker room.
Even the ceiling tiles are painted, the results of Thursday night support group activities where pediatric cancer patients get together and participate in arts, crafts and other activities designed to take their minds off their daily fight against cancer.
Ultimately, that's what all these great things circle back to. While these children are having their moments of fun, the greater picture is that they are trying to beat cancer. For many the road is long and hard, and Richy's Rascals aims to bring at least some comfort and joy to the kids they touch.
The idea for Richy's Rascals came up in part because of Richards' personal experience with childhood cancer. After losing a cousin to brain cancer at a young age, Richards carried the experience and decided to do something for the pediatric cancer community when he found himself with the resources to give back.
"The idea of doing something with cancer, kids' cancer, came about because of a family member I lost, a little cousin I lost when I was young," Richards said. "But the idea blossomed from different ideas from different people throughout the organization. Kasey Dowd and Bill Wickett have taken it to a new level since then, but I just wanted to get involved in pediatric cancer."
Richards' involvement in pediatric cancer has been huge in the local community. Partnering with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation and Children's Cancer Center, 18 tickets are dispersed for each Lightning home game so children and their families may take a night off to relax and forget their worries.MORE