The New York Islanders were in a giving mood last week.
The day after giving up two goals in a loss to the Rangers, players from the Long Island hockey team gave a much more meaningful gift: a chance for children at local hospitals to meet their sports heroes up close.
When defenseman Johnny Boychuk handed a signed a photograph to Robby, a seven year old with leukemia at Winthrop University Medical Center, Robby’s eyes lit up.
“It definitely brightened his day,” said Robby’s father, Brian, who asked that their last name not be printed to protect their privacy. “He’d been in the hospital for a few days, and it’s not so exciting, and it definitely made it more exciting…I think he got a kick out of it.”
Representatives from the Islanders made appearances in the pediatric wards at a number of regional hospitals, including Winthrop in Mineola and Steven and Alexandra Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. The team also gave away toys for the kids to take home.
“These kids go through some tough times,” said forward Matt Martin, who attended the event at Cohen. “It’s a great thing to be able to put some smiles on their faces.”
In addition to Martin, Islanders captain John Tavares, alternate captain Kyle Okposo, alternate captain Frans Nielsen, defenseman Travis Hamonic, and right wing Colin McDonald appeared at Cohen.
Right wing Cal Clutterbuck, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and Boychuk attended Winthrop.
Tavares said delivering the toys is one of his favorite events of the year.
“It’s a nice thing for us to do, and it’s nice to let them forget what they have to deal with for a little while,” he said.
Tavares added that seeing the children cope with serious illnesses puts things in perspective for the players.
Though the team is moving to Brooklyn next season, Martin said it is important for the team to support the community that cheers it on.
“We’ve called Long Island home for a long time,” he said. “The fans come out and support us, and we all want to come out and get involved in the community.”
Robby, pulling his IV behind him, went from player to player at Winthrop collecting autographs before striking a pose for a group picture.
“He enjoyed interacting with them and getting all of their signatures,” Brian said. “He wanted them all – it’s like Pokemon cards.”
Robby, who was discharged later Wednesday, also took home a large Lego set, his father said.
After meeting with Robby in the central play area, the Islanders at Winthrop made bed visits to the children who were too sick to move.
The visits were originally scheduled for Christmastime, but an outbreak of the mumps among NHL players forced the team to push back the date.