(Photo gallery: Penguins Visit Children's Hospital 1/16/08)
The Penguins delivered hats, blankets and yearbooks on Wednesday at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital.
They also brought plenty of smiles and laughter to the patients and their families.
“I think it’s a day for the kids, really. For us to come here, hopefully, we can just change their mind a bit and give them something else to think about,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s tough. They are facing a lot of adversity. A lot of them and their families are facing a lot of tough times. If we can come here and change their thoughts a bit and get them to laugh a little and talk about something different, I think we’ve done our part. You want kids to experience things and be happy and sometimes they sacrifice a lot because they’re here. I think some people may forget what their families are going through, too. If they can be a part of it and get a change of pace for a day, I think everyone enjoyed themselves.”
The Penguins spread cheer, signed autographs and posed for pictures as the team was split up into several groups and visited children room-by-room on several floors of the hospital.
“It’s fun. We know we’re role models for kids and there are other people who look up to us. So, coming to a hospital to see the kids and making a difference in their lives is very gratifying to us,” Penguins winger Georges Laraque said. “Knowing those are the people who support us every day and to come to a hospital as a team is a great way to thank the community for their support.
“You want to come into their rooms and bring a positive atmosphere and smile and laugh so they can forget the reason why they are here and the reason why they are in pain. That’s why we’re here and it’s something they are going to remember for a long time. A lot of them don’t have a chance to come see a hockey game, so that’s another reason why we take it really seriously and we’re so happy to come here.”
The players were eager to make their annual visit to the hospital, especially Maxime Talbot.
“A lot of guys were looking forward to this. I was looking through the calendar to see when we were coming here since we do it once a year. I wish we could do it more often because I think it’s great for the kids and for the players,” he said. “When you go back home and think about what you just did, it’s a great feeling and you feel fortunate. You hope for the best for everyone. I think these kids really enjoyed the day and we enjoyed it, too.”
The afternoon visit was rewarding to the patients, too.
“It’s always a lot of fun. It really is a good feeling coming here. You really don’t realize what effect it is on the kids and how much they enjoy it and how much it brightens their day. If that’s what we can do, I am glad to be here,” Penguins forward Jordan Staal said. “There are some kids here who have been here for a long time, so there can be some long days for them. It’s just nice to change the pace a little bit for them and come see them. Hopefully, they can come see us soon enough.”
Seeing their rooms packed full of Penguins was quite a sight for the youngsters.
“Especially when you look in the room and the guys are so big. You don’t get just one guy – you get a group of about seven at once, so it’s overwhelming,” Laraque said with a laugh. “We know that and it’s awesome and everyone has been really great and there is such a positive atmosphere.”
“There are a lot of hockey fans here and a lot of kids who look up to us,” Talbot said. “Even for kids that don’t know hockey that much, they see five or more huge guys walk in the room, like Jordan Staal who is 6-foot-5, and they are all impressed. Even if they don’t know hockey that much, it’s nice to see other people or try to be funny and try to make them laugh. You see the parents who are fans, too. So, it’s really great for everyone.”
The visit was rewarding for the patients and their families, but the Penguins won’t soon forget it, either.
“We’re pretty fortunate to do what we do. I think it puts things in perspective when you come here and see what kids are going through and what they’re facing,” Crosby said. “The challenges we face are a bit different from what they face.”
Staal agreed: “It’s just a great feeling. They really enjoy it and have fun with it, so it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”