Sergei Gonchar did the best he could. After all, 6-year-old Lucas was already teaching the Penguins defenseman a lesson on the air hockey table. But Gonchar was really in trouble once Lucas recruited goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
. The tandem was too much for Gonchar and the Russian lost despite his best efforts.
Gonchar and Fleury were two of 17 Penguins - each equipped in his jersey and Santa Claus' hat - to make a surprise visit to Children’s Hospital in Oakland on Monday. The players visited sick and recovering children, handing out toys that the team bought and spreading some holiday cheer.
“It’s fun, especially this time of year,” Sidney Crosby
said. “It’s probably not an ideal situation for a kid to be in the hospital. It’s just nice to come here and change their mind a bit.”
Joining Fleury, Gonchar and Crosby were forwards Eric Godard, Tim Wallace, Tyler Kennedy
, Pascal Dupuis
, Max Talbot
, Miroslav Satan, Mike Zigomanis and defenseman Hal Gill, Brooks Orpik
, Mark Eaton, Rob Scuderi, Alex Goligoski, Philippe Boucher and Kris Letang
Hal Gill was the brainchild of the visit. He organized the event and recruited the players. No media outlets were invited to the event so that the players could have a more intimate experience with the kids.
“(Gill has) done it in the past,” Crosby said. “It worked out really nice. It’s a good opportunity for us to meet some kids. This time of year it’s extra special.”
Penguins players, coaches and staff collected over $6,000 dollars, which was used to purchase a number of games, toys and DVDs. The players - split into groups of two or three - distributed the gifts.
Bailey, 3, was really excited when Crosby and Talbot stopped by to give her a movie.
We put our Penguins shirts on and watch them. We put on our pink shirts and they score. - Bailey, 3
“We put our Penguins shirts on and watch them,” she told her father, who was sitting at her side. “We put on our pink shirts and they score.”
Josh was about to call his mother on the hospital phone but he hung up and his eyes widened as Talbot and Crosby approached. The players chatted about hockey and the Penguins' Stanley Cup run.
“You guys were so close,” Josh said. “That was fun to watch. It was intense. Do you think you’ll win this year?”
“We hope so,” Talbot said.
The players took pictures with Josh and gave him a DVD movie before departing.
"That was awesome," Josh said.
Mikaela was a little shy when Eaton, Kennedy and Wallace stopped by to greet her. But she opened up once the conversation turned to Hannah Montana. Mikaela, 9, even introduced the players to her stuffed toys – a gecko, Chocolate Moose and Lopsy (named such because of his lopsided eye).
Nancy was given a special treat - or torture depending on how you look at it - when Talbot and Letang serenaded her with “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sung in French. Their heart was in the right place, even if their pitch was a little off.
That was awesome. - Josh
Crosby, Talbot and Letang ran into a group of Children’s Hospital staff that were singing Christmas carols to the children. The trio joined up with the carolers and an accoustic guitar player. They then sang “Jingle Bells” in English.
A little later, Mike Zigomanis talked to Nancy's mother on the phone.
After all the gifts had been dispersed, the Penguins all went to the play room with the children.
After Lucas defeated Gonchar in air hockey, he taught Crosby how to play a racecar Xbox game. Once the game was setup, Crosby said:
“All right, show me how it’s done."
The Penguins captain sat inquisitively next to Lucas as the youngster raced around the track. Even Cooke was amazed by Lucas' skills maneuvering around the course.
Meanwhile, Eaton and Orpik took turns playing Connect Four with Josh. Josh is, by his own admission, the most popular kid at the hospital. And he wasn't bashful about a showdown with some of the players. Though he couldn’t beat Orpik and Eaton, he did have success toppling Letang and Godard.
Max Talbot painted with little Andrew. Talbot gave Andrew his painting of a Christmas tree, which was, according to Talbot, the greatest painting he’s ever created.
Satan played with a toy train with 2-year-old Jaden. Every time the two would push the small train through the tunnel, Jaden would smile and say, “Again!” The sequence repeated for several repetitions until Jaden turned his attention to some Legos.
Of all the kids the players met, the one child that really stood out in Crosby’s mind was Breanna. She wore a pink robe and was given a stuffed kitten, to which she coyly asked a nurse to ask Crosby to autograph. Of course, Crosby obliged.
“She’s a cute little girl and she really liked the gift that we gave her,” Crosby said. “It’s fun to be around the kids. They enjoy it and that’s the main thing.”