OTTAWA -- At first glance, it might look like a scene from an arcade or a child's birthday party: brightly lit walls surrounding a playroom in which kids play interactive games online or video games on a row of Xbox consoles.
But this isn't just any room, and these aren't just any kids. It all starts with the sign hanging at the far end of the room that reads, "The biggest assist happens off the ice."
In a partnership between the National Hockey League, the Ottawa Senators and Companions in Courage Foundation, Pat LaFontaine's charitable endeavor, the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario opened the NHL All-Star Legacy Playroom on Friday. The dynamic, state-of-the-art facility was opened to CHEO's young patients as part of Ottawa's All-Star Game festivities.
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From the moment the doors opened, the hospital's young patients resembled hockey players -- their heads on a perpetual swivel. The attractions and options were almost too much to process. The presence of NHL players Colin Greening, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier had some excited. NHL mascots like the Sens' Sparty, Mick E. Moose of the Winnipeg Jets, Fin of the Vancouver Canucks, and Sabretooth of the Buffalo Sabres were the key draw for others. The computers and gaming consoles were also big hits.
"I believe, and I must be a little biased, our players are not only the best athletes in the world, they are also the most charitable and the most giving," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who helped launch the playroom along with LaFontaine and Eugene Melnyk, the Senators owner. "They are committed to improving the lives of children in need. It's a place for children to escape for a brief time the rigors of hospitalization and medical treatment. They can get away from doctors and nurses and needles."
Through a partnership with Cisco and Microsoft, the room also provides children the opportunity to engage in video conferencing with NHL players, as well as patients at similar playrooms across North America.
It's all the brainchild of LaFontaine, the Hall of Famer whose Companions in Courage foundation has opened these rooms, also known as Lion's Dens, in dozens of hospitals during the past five years, reaching an estimated 50,000 patients annually. Through its partnership with the NHL, Lion's Den patients also have the opportunity to meet NHL players, who have been regular guests at the facilities.
"During my years as a player, I had the opportunity to meet some very special kids who changed my life and showed me what courage was really all about. Fighting from an injury to get back to the game is one thing. Fighting for your life is a totally different kind of courage," LaFontaine said. "To open up … a place where kids can escape and just be children again and forget their pain for a little bit and talk to one of their heroes, video conference with their teachers, play a game with one of their siblings, to take the pressure off the family. To me, that's a real score in life."