NEWARK, N.J. -- The smile on the faces of six patients from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center who have endured hardships dealing with illness at an early age made a day of community service worth it for the New Jersey Devils prospects on the fourth day of development camp at Prudential Center on Thursday.
The bikes assembled by six groups of five prospects through Build-a-Bike were presented to the children aged 7-11, and their families. It marked the first time the Devils prospects participated in this project at development camp and upon completion, each child got to keep and ride a bike for the first time.
"It was definitely a fun team-building event for us; all the guys had some laughs," said defenseman Ty Smith, a first-round pick (No. 17) in the 2018 NHL Draft. "Building a bike for someone who has never rode a bike before is special. Knowing there will be a child riding a bike that we built is pretty cool."
For 11-year-old Daniel Perry of Roselle, New Jersey, it was an opportunity to not only ride a bike for the first time, but meet possible future NHL players. Perry, born with congenital heart disease, has had three open-heart surgeries, the last coming in 2016.
"It's a wonderful time and experience not only for Daniel but for the parents because it's one more milestone you get to see," his mother Darlene Perry said. "Daniel was so excited about this day. He was telling all his friends, 'I'm going to the hockey arena and they're building bikes for us.' He got so elated and it's just one more reminder to him how strong he is and how people really care and are invested in seeing kids do good, especially after he's been through so much."
Forward Joey Anderson, selected in the third round (No. 73) of the 2016 NHL Draft, said the bike-building project also helped bring the players closer together.
"It was a good team-building activity for us, and a challenge to get all the parts and assemble the bikes," Anderson said. "Sometimes it was a frustrating thing to do because we're all not familiar with building bikes but it's good to do it with each other, and you get to talk to each other to help. You saw a lot of groups working together. It started out as six teams but guys broke off to help other groups."
Kelechi Mbagwu of Newark enjoyed being pushed around the arena floor by the prospects. Mbagwu, 7, has sickle cell anemia and has been getting blood transfusions each month for years.
"I feel excited for him and myself, actually," his mother Ekwutosi Mbagwu said. "He's here to participate in this great event. He's been excited and I'm sure this will be a memorable day for him. I'm glad he was able to have this day, and I'm sure he's going to have a lot of stories to tell.
"I'm also sure he will start liking hockey because he got a gift from hockey players."