They say laughter is the best medicine and the Edmonton Oilers took that to heart today, visiting eight hospitals in Oil County. Merriment and cheer rang through the halls as the players and Head Coach Tom Renney signed autographs, posed for photos and took the time to sit down and chat with patients right before the holidays.
“It’s always fun to get out here and brighten spirits a bit and just meet people from all over the world that are Oilers fans,” said Ryan Jones. “It doesn’t matter what people are going through, it’s always nice to just see them with a smile on their face and share their experiences with you and all-around just have a fun time.”
“It’s absolutely wonderful,” added Wes Neufeld, father of a patient at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. “They’re hockey fans, they love the game and for them to meet the players that they’ve watched for the last six, seven, eight years it’s just an absolute thrill for them and for the parents to just see them happy.”
The Oilers hospital visits have become an annual tradition for the team, uniting players and patients through a mutual passion for hockey. Staff, patients and families at the Stollery Children’s, Cross Cancer Institute, Glenrose Rehabilitation, Grey Nuns, Misericordia, Sturgeon Community, CapitalCare Dickinsfield, and Capital Care Lynnwood Hospitals welcomed players this afternoon with big grins and excited chatter.
“We go around in the morning and let the children know that the Oilers are coming and so we get to see the absolute joy and excitement on their faces when they know what’s going to happen later in the afternoon,” said Diane Tuterra, a representative from the Stollery.
Recently out of surgery, Dylan Sparks was enamored when he heard the news and anxiously awaited the arrival of his favourite player, Ryan Smyth.
“It was awesome, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had,” said Sparks. “It was just phenomenal. He was a really fun guy to meet and it was just a great time.”
Smyth and his wife Stacey are long-time supporters of the Stollery and have re-acquired the title of Stollery Ambassador Family since their return to Edmonton this fall.
“It’s an honour to be a part of the Stollery itself but to come down here and see these kids is special.”
While the team hospital visits happen once a year and are a memory that most patients won’t soon forget this holiday season, many players take time throughout the year to make personal visits.
“It’s just a thrill and a pleasure to have Ryan Smyth back in the city. He’s been a real ambassador for the Stollery Children’s Hospital and comes on many occasions just to visit children,” added Tuterra.
As the cards, hats and jerseys were signed and stories shared between new friends, the afternoon came to a close with smiles permanently plastered on both the patients’ and the players’ faces. Just as the player visits brighten and encourage those going through trying circumstances, the players also left with a sense of inspiration having spent the afternoon with some of Oil Country’s most strong and courageous individuals.