Every year, the Penguins put hockey aside for an afternoon. And, every year, they create long-lasting memories for children.
The Pittsburgh Penguins stopped by Children’s Hospital on Friday and brought plenty of smiles with them.
“You hope to put a smile on their faces. It makes you feel good when you can,” forward Mark Recchi said. “They are going through tough times and you just hope you can make them forget about it for a little bit.
“It makes you feel blessed, especially when you have children. It’s not always easy coming in and seeing kids like this,” he continued. “They have been great. They all have great attitudes and they are all enthusiastic, so it’s nice to see. Obviously, it makes you feel good.”
The Penguins were split into three groups and visited children room by room.
“It’s great for us to be here. We love coming here and doing things like this. Just to see the smile it puts on the children’s faces and the families’ – I think it makes everybody feel good,” defenseman Ric Jackman said. “There’s a lot of mixed emotions just to see what some of the children are going through. When we come in and say hi and sign a couple autographs and give them a couple of gifts, the smile it puts on their face is worth a million dollars.”
Players handed out team calendars to the children and their families, signed autographs, chatted and posed for pictures.
“We’re giving out the calendars and asking them some questions about hockey. It’s neat that people in the hospital are able to follow us,” defenseman Josef Melichar said. “Visiting is a good thing and the kids really enjoy it, so that makes us happy. We just try to give the kids a little smile and hopefully make their day a little better today.”
The children were thrilled with the Penguins’ visit.
“It’s pretty good. We get a lot of different people who come visit us,” said 17-year-old Desirae. “It’s just great to know people care to come see us.”
“It’s fun to see people come see us when we’re sick,” said 13-year-old Shantayza. “In school, they are doing fun things. In the hospital, we want to do fun things, too.”
Shantayza and Desirae had the chance to goof around with rookies Maxime Talbot and Sidney Crosby.
“I like Sidney and Mad Max,” Desirae said.
“I like Mad Max. He’s cool,” said Shantayza, who is now a hockey fan. “I didn’t really watch them before, but I will watch them now.”
The Children’s Hospital staff was glad to see the Penguins take time out of their busy schedules for a visit.
“The kids are very appreciative of these players coming and visiting. They watch these players on TV all the time. A lot of these kids can’t get out of their rooms and they are here for a long period of time and they love when players come in and they can get autographs and the chance to meet them personally,” said Shalese Bennett, a Child Life Specialist. “We have a lot of kids here that love hockey and are very excited to see the players in person and get to meet them. Sometimes, it’s the only time they get to do something like this. It’s a great opportunity for them and it brings a smile to their faces when nothing else is right now.”
Rather than just signing an autograph or two, the players took time to visit with patients and their families. The end result – lots of laughter and smiles.
“It’s amazing. It makes their day. We’re really glad the Child Life Department can provide something like this to them and have the players come in,” Bennett said. “The players are wonderful with the children and that’s the best part. They want to be here. They are very down-to-earth and they love coming and hanging out and talking to them about what they like to do and just being great with all the families and kids of all ages. It’s great to see them want to come and do something like this and give back.”
The memories created Friday will be special ones for the children and players.
“I think that’s the main thing – just to put their worries out of their heads for whether it might be 10 minutes or 5 minutes or whatever we spend with them,” Jackman said. “Hopefully, it can make them a little better today and I know it definitely makes us feel better to see them smiling. It’s definitely something we don’t forget.”
Certainly, Shantayza will remember her day with the Penguins.
“I wanted to say thank you and keep winning the games.”