Skyla Dennis wasn’t having a good morning. But something happened that, by the end of the day, the 9-year-old was doing her laps around the hospital wing with the staff at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. One nurse held the iPhone that blared Luke Bryan’s greatest hits.
Let’s just say the Buffalo Sabres and Flashes of Hope can crash her party anytime.
That day, Sabres forwards Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel stopped by Roswell Park with Sabretooth to visit with a few young patients.
Flashes of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for children's cancer while honoring the unique life and memories of every child fighting cancer by photographing patients, was also on hand.
“It just gives them something to look forward to and break up the monotony of the day,” Robin Hace Nusbaum, the program and event manager for Carly’s Club, the pediatric division of Roswell Park, said.
”It gives them a chance to escape from everything they’re dealing with here and literally be a star for a little while.”
Skyla had had a bone marrow transplant the week before and on Oct. 6, the morning of the photo shoot, there was a chance that she wouldn’t be able to attend because she wasn’t feeling well.
“When I let her know these guys were coming, it definitely brightened her day up,” Skyla’s mom Beth said.
Skyla was all smiles then when she got up to get ready, even picking out a blue dress to wear so she could match the players’ jerseys.
“These kids, they just love it,” Beth said. “They soak it up and they talk about it – not just today, but they talk about it for quite some time. It moves them.”
“She was not feeling well, she was getting sick this morning, she didn’t want to get out of bed,” Nusbaum said. “And then she had her Flashes of Hope photo shoot and a chance to meet these really cool guys and Sabretooth and all of a sudden, she’s not so hard to convince to take some laps around the floor and get the exercise and play the country music that she loves and dance to while she’s doing those laps. It’s really a special thing.”
Saturday marks Hockey Fights Cancer Night presented by Roswell Park and as the Sabres are set to take on the New Jersey Devils at First Niagara Center, special events will commemorate the night throughout the game. You can find more information on what’s happening here.
Flashes of Hope will also be set up from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday near the pavilion street level elevators to give cancer survivors an opportunity to have their photo taken.
To date, through the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, the NHL's US and Canadian charitable foundations and NHL supporters and fans have donated more than $15 million to support national and local cancer research institutions, children's hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.
As just one example of how Sabres players have gotten involved, Eichel has taken great interest in getting to know some of these kids and he wants to do even more as time goes on.
Back when he lived in Boston, Eichel said he made a friend, a 9-year-old boy who has overcome brain cancer twice. He’s been able to maintain that relationship, even inviting him to the game against Tampa Bay on Oct. 10.
And right after Eichel signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres in July, he made a trip around town to meet fans. Stopping at Roswell Park was part of the tour and he made another strong connection with a boy named Matthew Eggers. When Eichel was still undecided about a jersey number, Matthew suggested he wear 100.
Eichel met Matthew again during the Flashes of Hope photo shoot and Matthew was able to visit with Jack in the Sabres dressing room after the home opener.
“It’s such a tight-knit community and for us to be able to go [to Roswell Park] and do the things we do for them, it’s great,” Eichel said. “The kids, it puts smiles on their faces.”
Olivia Wilcox celebrated her end of treatment with the team during the photo shoot. Typically, Olivia would be the one getting peppered with Silly String, but since she was feeling a little shy, the 6 year old turned the tables on the Sabres and unloaded the cans on them.
“She looked great,” Eichel said, thinking back to that day. “It’s just nice for us to go in there and it means a lot to the kids. It’s something small we can do that goes a long way.”
Over the past four years, the Buffalo Sabres’ Hockey Fights Cancer fund has donated $20,000 to Flashes of Hope.
“Having the Sabres as part of the photo shoot elevates it to the top level,” Nusbaum said. “When you have somebody that kids look up to on the ice but then they can see them as such a role model off the ice. Even more than just a professional athlete in the area, they are supporters and cheerleaders and friends to these kids.”