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Funny how giving back makes you feel better

by Phil Coffey

This week the Ottawa Senators visited the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
As we grow older, we also grow more jaded about life in general, so it’s easy to forget the hold a sport like hockey can have on people.

If you need proof, just read any of the accounts on the Web about the various visits NHL teams make to hospitals and schools. These visits get a lot of play at Christmas, but you should know that NHL players make the trek to hospitals all season long to spread a little cheer.

This week, let’s follow the Ottawa Senators as they visited the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, a visit that was chronicled by Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun.

“This is better than Christmas,” said Josee-Chantal Riel, a 14-year-old in a wheelchair as she met Mike Fisher. “I adore the Senators. Mike Fisher is my all-time favorite player.”

“This is like Christmas Day for her today,” her father, Jacques, told Stevenson. “This definitely helps the morale. It helps the recovery. I think this shows the kids they are just as important as anybody. This definitely helps the spirit of the kids.”

It might seem like the least a player can do to give something back to the community to make a visit like this. The fact that players across the NHL make multiple visits says a lot about the character of the players, because it isn’t easy to go into one of these hospitals to see kids struggling against the ravages of sickness and disease.

Years ago, I remember making a visit with some New Jersey Devils players to a children’s hospital and the players’ reaction afterward was poignant. It was emotional to be sure to see kids suffering, but the spirit of the kids somehow inspires you at the same time.

“Every year we come here, it touches home,” Chris Neil told Stevenson. “They lift you up, all these kids. They bring life back into you. It’s amazing how they do it. You can’t say enough about that, how upbeat they are. Whenever we leave here, we have a big smile on our faces and we’re rejuvenated.”

“As adults, you look a lot of times at the negative rather than the positive,” Daniel Alfredsson said. “You see kids in pretty tough situations and the way they handle themselves. The way they smile and look at the positives. I think that’s the biggest thing you can take out of this. It really gives you a lot of energy coming out of here. Seeing their reaction is the best thing.”

Rooting for Dowell -- Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews have received plenty of attention for their excellent rookie seasons in Chicago, but Jake Dowell’s story is no less inspirational.

Mike Downey of the Chicago Tribune told Dowell’s story the other day and it is worth summarizing here. Dowell was drafted 140th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft having played four seasons at the University of Wisconsin. He started this season with Norfolk in the AHL, but was recalled to the Blackhawks for his NHL debut, in which he scored a shorthanded goal against Calgary on Nov. 22.

The folks in Eau Claire, Wis. had gathered at a local tavern that had the NHL Center Ice package to watch the game and celebrated when the hometown son scored.

A couple nights later, Dowell took a shot off the skate in Edmonton. True to the hockey player’s code, Dowell shrugged it off. He wanted to get back to Chicago so his parents, Vicki and John, could see him in person.

John Dowell has Huntington’s disease, according to Downey. A former college football player, John Dowell was diagnosed in 2003 with the condition, an incurable genetic disorder that results in a gradual deterioration of both physical and mental skills. So you can understand Jake’s desire to put the pain aside and get to that Nov. 28 game against Tampa Bay.

”His father’s wheelchair would be loaded in the back seat,” Downey wrote. “A cozy corner of the United Center would be saved for it so John Dowell could have a good view of his son in the game.

Nope, a broken foot wasn’t going to get in the way here.

Dowell played 11 minutes for the Hawks that night in a 5-1 win. He didn’t score a point, but felt like a million bucks.

“I knew where they were sitting,” he said. “As exciting as it was for them, it was twice as exciting for me to have them there.”

The reality of the broken foot surfaced the next morning when he was placed on injured reserve. He is out indefinitely.

With the NHL dark on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dowell will head home to Eau Claire for a couple days, armed with the puck from his first goal.

“I think my mother might have a nice place for that puck,” he said.


Florida’s Caped Crusaders -- Remember the green hard hat the Calgary Flames used to pass around to the hardest-working player after each win? Well, the Florida Panthers have a variation of the theme – the unsung hero’s cape.

The idea was hatched by a former Flame, defenseman Steve Montador. According to a story by Brian Biggane in the Palm Beach Post, Montador purchased two capes in Panthers’ red and had an ‘H’ (for hero) stitched on them during the summer, Montador approached captain Olli Jokinen and other team leaders with the idea of handing them out after wins.

“A lot of teams have been doing it,” Jokinen said. “It’s not necessarily for scoring goals, but (for) doing something for the team. It’s very positive.”

“It’s awesome,” Stephen Weiss said. “Every time we win it’s interesting to see who’s going to get it next. Sometimes it’s obvious, but you don’t have to go with that guy if you don’t want to. That’s why it’s a good little thing.”

As the guy who came up with the idea, Montador handed out the first cape to defenseman Bryan Allen after a win against the Devils on Oct. 11.

Players’ reactions to winning the cape vary, Biggane wrote. David Booth did his interviews with the media wearing it; others have worn it while doing their mandatory post-game stationary bike ride. Wear it or not, they know they’ll get some ribbing from their teammates.

“It’s something to laugh at and have fun with,” Montador said. “It looks pretty humiliating at some point, but it’s also a reward. It appears it’s a fun thing to have.”

“You don’t have to make a speech,” Jokinen added, “but you have to wear it. That’s enough.”

Telling his story -- Boston Bruins forward Glen Metropolit will be the subject of a special feature on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada on Feb. 8. The feature will chronicle his rise from some tough neighborhoods in Toronto.

“It’s a tough environment,” Metropolit told the Boston Herald of the Moss Park and Regent Park areas he once called home. “But you don’t even realize it. You’re growing up and you’re a happy kid. You don’t know any different. I was loved by my mom and family. That’s all you need when you’re a young kid. I wasn’t neglected or anything like that.

“A lot of those kids are not loved. You don’t get those hugs and kisses. They try and get attention in other ways. They get behind the 8-ball and get into crime. They see some drug dealers around and see some quick money. So I’ve seen it go both ways.”

Perron gets the word -- St. Louis Blues rookie David Perron got the word all rookie players dream about the other day -- namely to ditch the hotel and find a place to live. But in his case, the living arrangements were made for him as he will move in with Nelson Ayotte, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

“This will be something stable for him, a place to go home to and a family to talk to,” Blues President John Davidson told reporters.

Davidson had considered allowing Perron to play for Canada at the World Junior Championships, but the Blues have been so happy with his play they didn’t want to let him go.

“It’s a world-class event and if he wasn’t going to be playing here, it was a viable option,” Davidson said. “But the way he’s played, he deserves to play here.”

In it to win it -- The Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom is a quiet guy. No blowing his own horn from him about any personal accomplishment. Suffice it to say, Lidstrom will go down in NHL history as one of the best defensemen ever.

And one of the most durable, too. Lidstrom has played in 1,206 games headed into play Thursday. That’s more than any other player since he joined the Red Wings in 1991-92.

“Part of it is pure luck and part of it is because of the style I play,” Lidstrom told David Goricki of the Detroit News. “I’m more of a positional player who reads the play. I also try to take care of myself during the offseason. Conditioning plays a big role.”

Mission accomplished.

“When I was a teenager I enjoyed watching him play,” teammate Steffan Kronwall said. “He makes the game look so easy. Ninety-nine percent of the time he’s the best player on the ice. It’s like when you’re 10 or 11 and you’re playing against your Dad. He controls everything. That’s how it is with Nick out there.”

“He’s the best player in the League,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “He stays calm and always makes the right play.”


Votes for Vinny -- Henrik Zetterberg casts his vote for Nicklas Lidstrom as the NHL’s top player. In Tampa Bay, the player of choice is Vinny Lecavalier.

"He is the best player in the League," coach John Tortorella said. ”I don’t care what anybody else talks about. And I say that, and I'm not trying to be disrespectful to anybody else, I just see that as a coach, I can put him in any situation and feel comfortable - offensively and defensively. And how's he handled himself in the room and matured there - I just think puts him above and beyond."

"He is the best player in the League, I don't think there's any question about that," Bolts GM Jay Feaster said. "I thought he was the best player in the League last year. I think he's the most complete two-way player in the game today."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, newspaper, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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