BOSTON, MA - It's only a few hours, once a year, but wow, do those hours make an impact.
We're amidst the holiday season, traditionally a time for family and friends, and plenty of goodwill - and gifts - to go around. "Home for the Holidays," we often say.
If you're in the hospital during this time, not surrounded by the comforts of home, it's not easy, even if family is close-by.
That's where Ray Bourque stepped in years ago, when he was Captain of the Bruins, beginning a new tradition for the Black & Gold, to annually go shopping for toys and donate them to Boston hospitals every holiday season.
Bruins Alternate Captain Patrice Bergeron now spearheads the efforts, which saw the Bruins purchase over $20,000 worth of toy donations that were delivered by the team. More than 600 children who are unable to celebrate the holidays at home will now get to enjoy the toys.
On December 20, the Holiday Toy Delivery, presented by Wynn Resorts, saw the Bruins split up into groups and visit children at Boston Children's Hospital, Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, Franciscan Hospital for Children, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Shriners Hospital for Children and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Torey Krug spent their afternoon at Boston Children's Hospital, going from room to room visiting patients, all clad in holiday hats and bearing a never-ending bag of gifts.
"Just bringing smiles to kids faces," Rask smiled, on the purpose for the visit.
"We know how big of a thing Christmas is when you’re a kid," he added. "And if you have to spend it in the hospital, it could be tough, but then again, all of the employees here in the hospital, they do such a great job with that, try to make it as comfortable as possible and then we can just stop by for an hour or two and do the same thing."
"It’s just great. Although our schedule’s been tough - we play every other day so it’s kind of last minute date to squeeze this in - but we always try to make it happen."
The Bruins get to make numerous community visits throughout the course of the season, whether for special occasions (like Halloween) or on their own, but this one always has an extra "jolly" feel to it.
"With the different events, it’s definitely at the top of the list to go and pick the toys and come in and meet the kids individually and get to know them a bit," said Marchand. "And it’s really nice and you can kind of build a little bit of a relationship with them and get to know their personalities so, it’s great to meet the kids and be able to shake their hands."
Oh, there were definitely vibrant personalities to go around, with the kids all lighting up when the Bruins walked into their rooms donning the Spoked-B -- and their intersting holiday hats.
"It’s fun," Rask smiled. "Although, it’s tough, because some of these kids are in pretty tough shape, but we come and try to be as normal as we can and bring gifts and enjoy it."
The visit and toy delivery for the Bruins came right after their practice, and before they wrap up an important stretch of games before the Christmas break.
"It makes our day, too," said Rask. "We’re lucky in Boston to have so many good hospitals and as players, we can go pretty much anywhere and do this kind of stuff so it’s just great."
The kids around the hospital were lucky enough to not only get visits from the Bruins, but also the other Boston sports teams. It's the nature of this community, and the opportunity that the athletes get to take advantage of, whenever they can find the time.
The players only get a few minutes with each patient, but you can immediately see the impact that they make - whether it was Elisabeth not being able to wipe the smile from her face (and now being able to tell everyone that she knows that Bruins' goalie in her new Pucks & Pups Calendar), the way that Teddy's face lit up when Torey and David casually walked in and said hello like they were old friends, or Isaiah being able to offer his expert tips for the team (shut down Alex Ovechkin, shut down Sidney Crosby and keep working on that defensive coverage, okay?)
"Not all of these guys speak their minds and Isaiah was giving us tips to stop Crosby and Ovechkin and win the Stanley Cup, so that’s what we’ve got to do, I guess," smirked Rask.
That seems like a simple request, no?
"We come in and we’re a little goofy right now, and it’s a little something to help them laugh. It’s easy enough for them to laugh at all of our faces," joked Marchand, who was sporting a Hello Kitty themed Santa hat. "But the hats help a bit, so it’s good to see."
Which hat (or face, I guess?) brought the most laughs?
"You know, I’ve always been a Hello Kitty fan, that’s why I chose this one," said Marchand. "Torey’s got a pretty good one. He’s got a Christmas tree on his head so, he’s looking pretty good."
Krejci effortlessly sported his elf hat, which was well-liked, but Krug's garnered the most support, especially from young Adam.
"I think Torey has the best, he’s got the Christmas tree hat. Personally I like this one," said Rask pointing to his hat, before referencing the "Christmas Vacation" flick that Adam had on up above his hospital bed. "It looks like Cousin Eddie a little bit, so I’m voting for this."
Well, regardless of which goofy holiday hat had the most votes, we all know who the real winners are here, even if they only got to see those hats - and the Bruins wearing them - for a few minutes.
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