DETROIT - When Brendan Flaherty stepped off the Red Wings’ bench and shuffled to center ice, the 17-year-old couldn’t help but worry that he might fall in front of his favorite NHL players.
“That was cool, I was a little nervous I was going to fall but I managed,” Brendan said.
The only things that fell that afternoon were the tears from his mother’s eyes.
“Well I was crying in the stands, I couldn’t look,” said Kim Flaherty. “I can’t think about it because if I think about it I’m going to cry, so I just don’t think about it.”
Watching Brendan’s smile grow as he mingled and posed for pictures with the team was a perfect culmination to the last 17 years of the Flaherty family’s life.
When he was just one month old, Brendan’s kidneys failed, and he received a transplant from his father 14 months later. Brendan is currently in line for a second kidney transplant, and was attending Detroit’s practice with his parents and two sisters on Friday, March 21 as a Make-A-Wish Illinois recipient.
Although Brendan was on cloud nine for his entire two-day experience at The Joe, it was initially difficult for the teenager to accept Make-A-Wish’s offer.
“He just wants to be normal,” said father Steve Flaherty, tears welling in his eyes. “He always just wants to be normal and size-wise he’s not and all this stuff so he’s always just trying to be not different. It was kind of for once, everything kind of happened for him and he was special.”
The experience couldn’t have worked out more perfectly for the Wings fans. As part of the wish, the Flahertys attended Detroit’s game against Pittsburgh in which Daniel Alfredsson scored the game-winning goal with just four-tenths of a second remaining in overtime.
“Yeah, it was a good game,” said Brendan, who had never been to Joe Louis Arena before. “It’s pretty cool, I like it. It’s something you don’t do very often, or ever.”
But nothing made the 17-year-old smile more than meeting his favorite player, Pavel Datsyuk, in Detroit’s dressing room the following day.
“I got to meet him,” Brendan said. “He was kind of a little hard to understand. He just said he’d only take a picture if I smiled and he said good luck.”
The encounter made them both smile.
“The kids with their wishes come to see many players and you could see in his shining face that he was very happy,” said Datsyuk. “I’m happy to do something special for the kids to remember for their whole life.”
Defenseman Brendan Smith couldn’t agree more.
“It was cool that he had the same name as me so we kind of had a little chuckle but he got to see guys like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel and Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) and stuff so that’s pretty amazing,” Smith said. “I mean I was pretty happy when I saw them for the first time and I play with them so imagine what a little kid like that would be like. For us to be able to do that is huge. It brings a smile to our faces too because it’s quite an experience.”
Brendan’s wish was assisted by Make-A-Wish Michigan, an organization that the Wings support through events such as the second annual “Wings for Wishes” game to benefit the charity, hosted on Thursday, March 27 when Detroit welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to The Joe.
Fans had the opportunity to purchase from an assortment of 300 hockey pucks signed by members of the team, as well as blue Make-A-Wish wristbands to show their support of the organization.
New this year, the Wings also hosted on online fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Michigan, allowing fans to receive incentives such as discounts at Hockeytown Authentics, autographed hockey pucks and tickets to a Red Wings game during the 2014-15 season depending on certain donation levels.
During the first annual Wings for Wishes game last season, the Wings raised $7,248.77, which helped grant 10-year-old Logan’s wish to visit Turks and Caicos through the nonprofit’s Adopt-A-Wish program.
Follow Andrea Nelson on Twitter @Nelson_Andrea