EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Brandon Bloom arrived on the ice at the New York Islanders practice facility on Tuesday to thunderous applause from his teammates.
"I thought I would be so scared, but I had a lot fun," Brandon said. "It was a dream come true."
Brandon, 8, could use some fun after everything he and his family have experienced in the past 18 months. On April 17, 2016, Brandon was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He is being treated at Stony Brook Children's Hospital, and will continue to be until August 2018, when he'll be reassessed.
But with help from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Random Acts of Light program, Brandon was provided a tremendous distraction, even if for a few hours. On Tuesday, he was an Islander for a day.
The native of South Setauket, New York, had his own stall in the Islanders dressing room. He was invited to sit with the players during their meeting before practice. Then, with a No. 1 on the back of his jersey, he got ready for practice alongside his teammates.
His parents, Brian and Stefanie, watched from the stands. They haven't had many reasons to smile since Brandon was diagnosed, but they were grinning ear-to-ear Tuesday.
"He just had two little bumps on his neck," Brian said of what led to Brandon being diagnosed. "It just looked like veins. He was actually riding his bike on that Sunday. We wanted to get him checked out just to see what the little bump was. Everything just snowballed from there."
Brandon began chemotherapy immediately.
"He's in the maintenance phase right now, but he still takes it every single day," Brian said. "He's been amazing through the whole thing. He's never given us problems. He does what he has to do. He's the one getting us through this."
Several of the Islanders knew Brandon from when they visited him in the hospital. Players such as Adam Pelech, Shane Prince and Anthony Beauvillier remembered Brandon's infectious smile.
"When they brought it to our attention, I think everybody was excited about it," said Islanders forward Josh Bailey, who met Brandon after the home opener last season. "I had a chance to meet the Bloom family a while ago. They're really quality people and they're going through a tough time.
"You could see it on Brandon's face. He keeps fighting and it seems like he's in good spirits. I'm happy we could give him and the family a nice little day here."
Coach Doug Weight spoke with Brandon's parents after practice. He was more than happy to have them at the rink Tuesday, just as he was proud of his players for treating Brandon like a king.
"It's a good family and just a great kid," Weight said. "His eyes were wide for the last 3 1/2 hours, so that was fun. We've got good kids on our team, so they love it."
With some help from defenseman Scott Mayfield, Brandon skated in on Thomas Greiss from the blue line and put a wrist shot past the goalie. He was mobbed by his teammates before forward Casey Cizikas grabbed the puck and wrote, "First NHL goal" on it before handing it to Stefanie.
"I think I'm more excited than him today," she said. "This has been such a nice, magical experience. He's never had anything like this before. He loves sports, and he just wants to be a part of anything right now. This is just the best day. He'll never forget it."
"I think he was our best player out there," captain John Tavares said. "You add someone like that to the lineup, it's exciting."
Brandon still has a long road ahead. He will keep fighting. And smiling.
As for advice for children in the same predicament, Brandon's message was clear.
"Be strong," he said. "And stay healthy."