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Global Series

Laine, Barkov cheer up kids on visit to Helsinki hospital

Autograph session with Finnish forwards big hit ahead of Jets, Panthers Global Series games

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

HELSINKI -- Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov will play against each other in their home country of Finland for two regular-season games on Thursday and Friday as part of the 2018 Global Series.

Though the points at stake for the Laine's Winnipeg Jets and Barkov's Florida Panthers are important, the work they did away from the rink on Wednesday could have a greater impact than any goals they may score. 

Just ask 7-year-old Lari Sirenius. 

Lari and his mom, Paivi, made the short drive from their home in Klaukkala to the New Children's Hospital for their regular checkup on Wednesday, something they do every four months, to consult with doctors trying to get handle on Lari's blood condition.

"The doctor phoned us for this date and when we got here for the meeting this morning, she said, 'Let's hurry up with this meeting because we have send you downstairs,' Paivi said.

Tweet from @NHLJets: We���re honoured to be visiting a Children���s Hospital here in Helsinki this morning with @PatrikLaine29!#JetsSuomessa | #NHLGlobalSeries

When they arrived in the hospital's main lobby, they found Laine, Barkov and Panthers forward Juho Lammikko sitting at a table, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

"This was really special," Paivi said. "We were the last ones in the queue but Lari got the autographs. He plays floor hockey and he watches ice hockey on TV with his dad. And his cousin, who's 16, is playing for HIFK in a high league, so he's very interested in hockey."

Laine and Barkov have been the centers of attention during the NHL's trip to Finland, and that was especially the case Wednesday, during the hospital visit and practice at Hartwall Arena, where the Jets and Panthers will play the first game on Thursday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN3, NHL.TV).

"If we think about our life, we're so fortunate to be in this position so it's obviously not great to see all these kids in the condition they are in but hopefully we made their day a little better," Laine said at the hospital. "It was awesome to see them smile a little bit and just to bring a little bit of joy for their lives for a bit."

Barkov, the Panthers captain who, like Laine, was born in Tampere, was not only thrilled to see all the smiles on Wednesday, he wore one himself during his entire visit.

"I try to be like a role model on the ice and off the ice too, and this is a good thing, not just for them but me too," Barkov said. "I learn a lot just being here, how lucky I am to be able to play hockey and do the job I really love.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: Juho Lammikko playing hockey with his littlest fan during today���s visit at the Helsinki Children���s Hospital. ������

"To see those kids downstairs, all of them coming to take photos and (get) signatures and just to talk, how excited they are and ... some are too young to know but maybe later they'll get to know they saw you or Patrik. It probably means a lot for them and it means a lot for us to do this."

At the practice, Barkov was swamped with autograph and photo requests again, this time in the tunnel behind the bench that leads to the locker room. Fans held out Panthers and Finland jerseys, shirts, hats, photos and paper, anything that Barkov could sign.

"It was nice," he said. "When I was a young guy, there were two teams practicing in my hometown and I would probably come and ask for a stick or something, just like they did. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the games."

When it was the Jets' turn to take the ice, six young boys in Winnipeg jerseys were hanging over the railing in the first row of seats behind the bench.

They chanted "Laine, Laine, Laine," for nearly half of the Jets' 50-minute practice and when it was over, the Jets forward entered a similar autograph and photo zone as he left the ice.

Video: Finnish players visit children at Helsinki hospital

Jere Lehtinen, who won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, attended the practices Wednesday.

He was also at the New Children's Hospital earlier in the day. After Laine, Barkov and Lammikko left the lobby to visit young patients in the hospital's cancer ward, Lehtinen and the Cup took their places for another round of autographs, photos and selfies.

"This is just great, just awesome these players and these games are here, and the Stanley Cup all week," said Lehtinen, the general manager of Finland's national men's team. "So great for people to see all of this. Today, here, I'm sure some of the people didn't know the players or the Cup was going to be here. For Finnish hockey and fans here, it's so great."

Jari Petaja, director chief of New Children's Hospital, said the value of a visit by Laine, Barkov and Lammikko should not be underestimated.

"It's so, so important," Petaja said. "What we need here is the sense of belonging and role models. Sports in general is great and this is Finland and hockey is No. 1.

"A few decades ago, Teemu Selanne started doing this here and his contribution has been so valuable. Now to have these new guys being in the same League at the same level, very, very valuable."

And rewarding to see the smiles, Petaja said.

"Of course, and also astonishment," he said.

Paivi and Lari, who also got their picture taken with Lehtinen and the Stanley Cup, confirmed that.

"We sent the pictures to my husband at work today," Paivi said. "I think he has a little bit of envy. Maybe a lot."

Video: Stanley Cup and Lehtinen visit children's hospital

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