‘Tis the season for the Penguins to trade their helmets for Santa hats, which they did on Friday when they delivered Christmas presents and a dose of holiday cheer at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
The Penguins players embodied the giving nature of the holidays by raising the funds to purchase all of the toys the children received on their annual visit, a tradition the team has upheld since the 1970s.
“It’s really amazing that they can add a smile to kids’ faces while they’re going through this, especially during the holidays,” said Molly, the mother of 14-month-old Max.
“If we can, even just for a minute, take their minds off of what’s bothering these families, it’s gratifying for us,” Matt Cooke
said. “Especially for the guys that have families and have young children, it proves to you why you don’t take health for granted.”
The players split up into groups in order to visit as many children as possible, with Cooke traipsing the hallways with teammates Pascal Dupuis
, Evgeni Malkin
, Kris Letang
and Marc-Andre Fleury
Malkin delivered a Rubik’s cube to a 10-year-old boy named Josh, who was awed by the Penguins players’ visit.
“I never pictured myself meeting all of these guys,” he said. “It’s just awesome. I feel a lot better now.”
While Josh may have had a great time meeting the Penguins, you would be hard-pressed to find a player who had a better time playing the role of Santa Claus than Eric Godard.
Godard joked and laughed with all of the kids and their families, even leading one room in a rendition of the Chordettes’ “Lollipop” when he learned that was the name of a patient’s bear.
“It’s always been fun going up and goofing off with them,” Godard said. “All the kids have been good. They’re in a good place now getting help, so it’s good to see them smile.”
One of the afternoon’s highlights came when Godard and his group, which consisted of Ben Lovejoy
, Chris Conner and Mark Letestu, stopped by the room of a 12-year-old girl named Donyelle.
Donyelle’s nurses said she had been having a tough time the past few days, so they were pleasantly surprised to watch her spirits get progressively brighter as the players hung out in her room.
The group of five delivered her a package of multi-colored nail polishes, which Donyelle opened right away. Her first question to Godard after opening her present was, “Can I paint your nails?”
Godard happily obliged, and Lovejoy held the bottle steady for Donyelle while she brushed a yellow polish on the nails of the towering 6-foot-4 bruiser that coordinated perfectly with his black-and-gold jersey.
“I picked the big guy!” she said with a grin.
While the visit may have perked up Donyelle, putting a smile on the young girl’s face had the same effect on Godard.
“It sure made me feel better,” Godard said of his visit with Donyelle. “I need to get (my nails) done more often, I think.”
During their visit, the players made the effort to really try and engage the children, some of whom were starstruck in the presence of the team.
This was especially the case with the group of Sidney Crosby
, Brooks Orpik
, Deryk Engelland
, Chris Kunitz
and Maxime Talbot, when they visited Josh, an 8-year-old boy who was shy when the group entered the room. But the players signed a picture for him and gave him a race car.
Their next stop was the room of a 7-year-old girl named Rayah. Although she complained that her dad steals the remote when the Penguins play so she can’t watch cartoons, she was excited to show the players her toy, a pink fur ball with two eyes.
“It has crazy eyes,” Rayah said.
Orpik’s deadpan response: “She was lookin’ at me when she said that.”