Officials bring holiday cheer to Kitchener hospital
Mike G. Morreale
There's no better time to put a smile on the face of a child than right in the middle of the holiday season.
That's precisely what members of the NHL Officials Association were thinking when they decided to put Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont., on their tour of visits during their Zebras Care initiative.
On Tuesday, linesmen Greg Devorski, Scott Cherrey and David Brisebois and referee Dean Morton will pay a visit to long-term and out-patient children in an attempt to make their day extra special. The visit, which begins 1 p.m. ET, will have the officials in two units -- an out-patient children's clinic and an in-patient ward.
"It's a great day, plus it's that time of the year," Devorski told NHL.com. "It's Christmas and the kids are getting excited and we're really looking forward to this."
Zebras Care (Grand River Hospital Foundation)
Grand River Hospital Foundation executive director Nancy Hewat is looking forward to the visit.
"It's one of those special moments when you have people like the NHL officials coming and to see the children's eyes light up make it all worth it … it's exciting for everybody," Hewat said. "For some of the kids, it will be a surprise if they haven't been scheduled to come in for treatment or for any kind of follow-up. But for children who are in the pediatrics or out-patient clinics regularly, they may have heard of it because we would have talked to child's caregiver or clinic manager about the visit."
Zebras Care is a charity initiative sponsored by the NHL Officials Association. The program, in collaboration with the NHL and its member teams, provides the opportunity for underprivileged and sick children to meet many of the NHL on-ice officials. In some instances, it also allows children and their guardians to attend an NHL game.
Hewat, who is in her 11th year as executive director at Grand River, said this will be the first visit from NHL-affiliated people.
"The whole idea started back in 2007 with (linesman) Brad Kovachik and Tony Sericolo and president of the association Brian Murphy," Devorski said. "We just felt we love the game of hockey and wanted to give back to the communities, and more importantly, the younger kids. But it's not just kids who are terminally ill, but those who are sick and need treatment for their illness. It took off slowly and started with game visits but every team is on board with us this year."
Unlike pre-game visits, however, where officials only get to spend about 20 minutes with the kids and their families, a hospital visit will allow the officials to spend even more time with the children during the course of a few hours.
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"During pre-game visits, the kids come into the official's room and at first are a little shy, so you have to work them into the atmosphere," Devorski, the father of two daughters, said. "Watching them, it hits home and makes you feel really good. We're giving back to these kids what we can in order to make their day. Not too many people get to go down to the bowels of the arena to see the officials and what we do. They'll ask a ton of questions about what we do and we ask them questions about what they like to do."
The most popular questions asked of the officials, according to Devorski, are who the toughest players and best fighters in the League happen to be. Every so often, he's asked how long he's been in the business and his salary.
"Last year, the hospital administration told us that it's very special for parents because day in and day out, it's the same thing with going to the hospital," Devorski said. "For something like this to happen, it kind of breaks up the day and lifts their spirits. I remember driving home last year feeling so good. All the kids and parents were so grateful and all we did was sign a few autographs, pucks and tell some stories … it just made their day."
In conjunction with their visit, the NHLOA will donate $5,200 to the hospital foundation from Zebras Care Charities so that four sleeper chairs can be purchased for family members to relax while spending time with sick children.
"The sleeper chairs will allow parents to sleep right beside their kids who have to stay in the hospital overnight, so this way they won't have to sleep in a different room of the hospital or go to a hotel," Devorski said. "It's pretty special to do that for the hospital. There are going to be about seven or eight kids that day who are actually in the hospital long-term. There might also be about 30-35 other out-patients getting treatment that day, so we expect a big turnout. For the kids who can't make it that day, we'll leave gift bags so that when they do come in, they won't be left out. It'll be quite a day, one of the biggest we've ever done. We want to talk to everyone and their parents or guardians."
The $5,200 donation was made possible via a charity golf tournament run by Programmed Insurance Brokers out of Waterloo, Ont., and whose president is former NHL player Al McDonough.
"It's great because if you're a parent, you're not likely to leave your child overnight if it's possible to stay, so to have a chair that converts into a bed is ideal," Hewat said.