The Penguins signed the young forward to a one-day deal and the Connellsville native was granted the 10,000th wish from the Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The whiteboard in the Penguins’ locker room indicated that Anderson will replace Cooke on the top line with Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
. Cooke wasn’t too put off by the replacement.
“Do I mind? Not at all,” Cooke said. “It’s a chance in a lifetime for me, and it is for him. Obviously, he’ll relish it.”
Jacob’s long-eye lashed, dark brown eyes lit up as Cooke carried him onto the Mellon Arena ice and zipped the blond-headed boy around the rink during the final minutes of the practice. The special moment brought tears to the eyes of Jacob’s mom, Crystal.
“For Cooke to do that, he’s top notch,” Jacob’s dad, Ronnie said.
Cooke carried Jacob over to the bench to meet head coach Michel Therrien and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
. He also skated the youngster over to Crosby who chatted with his new linemate.
“We have to really look at when we were kids - to get that opportunity, to be able to come out and hang out with a bunch of players, I know that I would have been in awe,” Cooke said. “So, I was just trying to make it as much fun and as memorable as possible for him.”
Cooke then carried Jacob to the net where Fleury was blocking shots. Jacob demonstrated his skills and took a few shots on the goalie.
“It was cool, yeah, (Cooke) showed me how to shoot the puck.” Jacob said. “It took me four shots.”
On Jacob’s fourth shot, cheers wafted to the ceiling when he slipped one past Fleury.
“I gave it my all,” Fleury said. “I didn’t want him to get much on me and show him who’s the king on the ice. I think I did (well). He still scored, so I think we’re even. He did a good job.”
Jacob’s day started at 10 a.m. when he arrived at Mellon Arena with his parents and 10-year-old sister, Taia, in tow. They entire clan was decked in Penguins gear. Jacob was wearing a powder-blue alternate jersey with camouflage pants. His blonde-headed sister wore a Malkin home jersey.
The siblings were almost inseparable during Jacob’s day with the Penguins. Jacob looked to his older sister throughout the day to soak-in the experience with him. The duo even sat between their parents, in seats on the glass located just behind the Penguins’ bench, during the team’s showdown with Carolina that evening.
“Taia and Jacob, they adore each other, they would be lost without each other,” Jacob’s mom, Crystal said. “They have such an imagination together, they goof around, they do so good together. It’s amazing. I think she can embrace it with him, I think her being here makes it even more special for him.”
The only time Jacob was without his sister was during his locker room visit prior to the morning skate. Amidst the fray of players pulling on jerseys, tying skates and buckling helmets, Jacob was shown to his very own stall located in the corner between Sergei Gonchar and Dustin Jeffrey
. He barely had time to admire his own “Anderson” jersey before his new teammates crossed the dressing room to greet him. Crosby was one of the first to crouch-down and shake-hands with the new Penguin.
Jacob was given a tour of the Penguins’ locker room and stopped in General Manager Ray Shero’s office to ink his exclusive one-day contract with the club. Shero briefed Jacob on the contents of the contract, and Jacob’s dad asked if it included a no-trade clause.
“Do you have an agent?” Shero responded, and everyone laughed.
Jacob informed Shero that he plays right wing.
“Perfect,” Shero said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Jacob was eager to sign with the club and merely asked, “Do I sign my full name?”
He sat in the same seat at the cherry-wood table in the corner of Shero’s office that Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal
and all players sit in when they sign with the team. Shero and Jacob shook hands, hugged and high-fived to seal the deal before Jacob was whisked away to address the media in the locker room.
The press conference was brief, but Jacob shared that prior to signing with the Penguins, he played with the Connellsville youth hockey team where he wears No. 15. He will wear No. 10 during his stint with the Penguins. His favorite Penguin is Malkin, who greeted Jacob during his locker room tour.
After his media obligations were through, Jacob headed back to his stall. He cracked a huge smile as he modeled his new jersey and helmet for his family. Dana Heinze, the Penguins equipment manager, took Jacob back to the equipment room and showed him how to sharpen skates. Jacob assisted Heinze in sharpening a pair of Crosby’s skates.
Jacob was then led to an alcove cluttered with sticks of varying heights, colors and curves and was told to choose any stick he wanted. Without hesitation he requested a Malkin stick which Paul DeFazio, the assistant equipment manager, helped Jacob cut to his size.
Jacob and his family observed the team’s practice from the glass in the corner closest to the Penguins’ locker room. Many of the players who skated past acknowledged their new teammate in the stands or shot a puck his way. He was all-smiles as he observed the practice. Jacob and Taia giggled together as they discussed his new teammates.
“Malkin is way taller than I thought,” Jacob noted.
“Yeah, he’s like seven-feet tall,” Taia added.
After the practice, Jacob helped man the door of the rink as the Penguins vacated the ice. The players addressed the eager boy as they walked past and Hal Gill gave him a stick that stretched two-feet higher then his newly cut Malkin stick.
“You’re looking good out there,” Maxime Talbot said when he passed by. “You scored more goals than me.”
Jacob joined his teammates in the locker room after the practice, and they all autographed his Jersey for him. Malkin and Gill both autographed the sticks they gave him.
At the game that night, Jacob observed the Penguins’ warm-up from the penalty box. The Mellon Arena crowd welcomed the youngster to the team with warm applause when he was honored during the first period of the game. Up on the jumbotron, they played a highlight video of his day which ended with a graphic of Jacob that matched the graphics they show of each player before the start of every home game. It was the perfect conclusion to a day that Jacob and his family will never forget.
“I think this organization did a great job with having (Jacob).” Therrien said. “Looking at that young kid and looking at the smile on his face. It is probably one of his dreams to wear the jersey and dress in the dressing room and meet everyone and jump on the ice. It’s awesome to be a part of those things.”
Making the Dream Come True
Every time the Penguins play a game, Jacob Anderson begs his mom to let him stay up and watch on TV. He first started playing hockey two years ago when the Make-A-Wish Foundation outfitted him with the necessary gear. Even before Jacob started playing, his mom got him a hockey stick for Easter, which he practices with constantly.
“Between games he’s with his stick in the dining room, back and forth, back and forth,” his mom said.
Jacob’s obsession with the Penguins really took off during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. At that time the Make-A-Wish Foundation was already in touch with Jacob, trying to determine his wish.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation exists, in part, to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. In order to grant each wish, a “wish team” is sent to the child’s home to determine what the child’s dearest wish is. Once the wish is identified they work to make it come true.
In Jacob’s case this meant a phone call to Cindy Himes, the Penguins director of community relations. According to Erica Thomas, Jacob’s wish team began planning his wish during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
Jacob’s wish is the 10,000th to be granted by the Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia chapter of Make-A-Wish. This is the most wishes to be granted by any single chapter.
“It’s an amazing milestone for us because when we think about it, that’s 10,000 lives we’ve been able to touch in a positive way,” Vice President of Communications for Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ann Hohn said.
Jacob suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, an incurable genetic disorder, as does his sister Taia. According to Crystal, Jacob’s mom, it affects the lungs and the digestive system so that if he gets a cold, it can just clog up the lungs.
“He takes a lot of medicine but he’s always done really well with his disease,” Crystal said. “We’re very optimistic with both the kids. They’re very aware of their disease and they’re very aware that any minute we could have a cure.”
Crystal also explained that the only time Jacob remembers he has Cystic Fibrosis is when he has to take medicine or go to the doctor, but otherwise, he lives a perfectly healthy life. She also explained that he gets sick, like any kid, and he has limitations on where he can go and how much energy he can save up, but he’s like any other little boy.
Crystal first found out that Jacob’s wish was being granted early last week when Thomas called her at work.
“We knew that this was his wish, and when they called me on Monday, I was elated,” Crystal said. “The entire office knew, I was in tears, it was wonderful.”
This is the sort of impact that the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia has been making on children and their families since 1983.
“It’s not just their lives but their parents and brothers and sisters,” Hohn said. “So we feel that we’ve touched more than 10,000 lives, but tens of thousands of thousands of lives through 25 years of wishes.”