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Special visit by the Red Wings

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Henrik Zetterberg loves the team's annual visit to the Children's Hospital of Michigan. (Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- Having a sick child is always a difficult thing, but especially at the holidays when children are supposed to be having fun, not staying in the hospital.

The Red Wings have made a special holiday tradition of visiting the Children's Hospital of Michigan each year.

For first-year head coach Jeff Blashill, the visit is especially meaningful.

"I've had a little bit of personal experience with it," Blashill said. "I feel real honored to have an opportunity to be here. My youngest son spent a little bit of time in a children's hospital, for surgery. One of my best friends, his boy went through cancer and has now beat it. But I know the struggles and the trials they go through and I hope that we can put a smile on their face and make their day a little brighter."

Captain Henrik Zetterberg has made many of these visits during his time with the Red Wings, but it's even more significant now that he has his own child, son Love, born this past summer.

"A lot of guys said it, it is different when you come in here when you have a little one at home," Zetterberg said. "The things that the families go through and the kids go through here, the job the hospital does for them, for us it means a lot that we can be a little bit a part of it."

Blashill and his players split into five groups to visit children on several floors.

Zetterberg and Blashill went with Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening and Gustav Nyquist to visit 16-year-old Diamond.

"My (11-year-old) brother loves you guys," Diamond said.

Diamond said she's a fan, too.

"You're awesome," Diamond told the group. "I like your jerseys."

Then Diamond got a hug from each player.

"Tell your brother that," Sheahan said. "That will make him jealous."

Diamond smiled as she held her Red Wings gift bag and calendar.

Chanel Pack, a certified Child Life specialist at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, has witnessed many of the Wings' visits throughout the years and said it always makes a difference.

"The kids love it," Pack said. "I've worked here eight and a half years and the Red Wings have been coming here since I've been here. You see them light up. It has a huge impact on the families. Being in the hospital is hard on families, so seeing people they see on TV or people they look up to, it brightens their hospital stay and makes them smile."

At this time of year, being able to bring some cheer really means something.

"Christmas is a great time of year for me personally, for family, but certainly for kids and again, this is the time where you want to see kids smile," Blashill said. "Christmastime should be a time to smile for sure so if we can help in that, we're glad to do so."

Zetterberg said it's not just the kids and their families who are happier after the visit.

"It's not just that we bring smiles to their faces, they bring a lot of smiles to our faces," Zetterberg said. "For us, it's a special day and we look forward to it every year."

Blashill said being around the children and their families is good for everyone.

"I think it's something that these are great perspective days for us as well to make sure you really appreciate every single moment in life," Blashill said. "You shouldn't necessarily need that reminder but it's a great reminder as well."

The Wings all appreciate the chance to give back to their fans.

"I think the community gives us so much so it's important for us to be able to give back and for us players to be able to do that on a day like this today, it means a lot for us," Zetterberg said.

(Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

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