MONTREAL – A jam-packed NHL schedule – and the inevitable fatigue that comes with it – couldn’t keep Canadiens players away from one event they wouldn’t miss for the world.
On Monday, the Habs set practice at the Bell Sports Complex aside, taking part instead in the 49th annual children’s hospital visit at the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine and the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Split into two groups, Michel Therrien’s troops spread holiday cheer, visiting with young patients, presenting them with gifts and offering support at this special time of year. For one day at least, hockey was the furthest thing from their minds.
“To me, it’s special. I have three young kids and we’ve spent some time at the [Montreal] Children’s Hospital before. The work that they do, and everything that they are is special,” offered captain Brian Gionta, who returned to Montreal earlier this season during the Canadiens’ extended road trip to Western Canada when his son suddenly fell ill. “It's tough when you’re there, so hopefully you can bring a smile to some of the kids’ faces. You run into kids who are here long-term and short-term, and if you can make them forget about things for a little bit, it’s pretty special.”
That’s exactly the impact meeting members of the bleu-blanc-rouge had on Chris and Valerie Gendron, whose one-year-old daughter, Charlie, is currently a patient at the CHU Sainte-Justine.
“It’s not easy being here. She’s going through a lot, all the tests and surgeries. Keeping your mind off little things like that can make a big difference in the long-run, even if they’re just coming by for a bit to say hi and wish us a Merry Christmas,” shared Mr. Gendron. “It takes our minds off why we’re here, and it puts a smile on her face, even though she’s only one-year-old. It’s a big change from being stuck with needles and taking blood tests all of the time.”
Like Gionta, George Parros knows first-hand what the Gendron family is going through.
“My kids [twins Lola and Jagger] were in the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] for two-and-half months when they were born, so I spent plenty of time in the hospital with them. My favorite visit today was with a two-year-old, and it reminds me of things like that,” underlined Parros. “It was good to be here today. It tugs on your paternal heartstrings a little bit. It’s always good to be humbled by coming to these places. I’m thankful for where I’m at personally, and it’s nice to be able to bring a lot of joy to peoples’ faces.”
While the kids themselves might have been the lucky ones on this day by spending some coveted one-on-one time with their hockey idols, the Canadiens admit the patients aren't the only ones who benefit from the experience.
“As much as we try to bring a smile to their faces, it seems like they always bring a smile to ours,” noted Josh Gorges. “It’s a great day for us to get away from hockey and really understand that there are a lot of things in life that are a lot more difficult than what we go through on a regular basis. We get a lot out of this day for sure.
“When you think of kids, you always think of them as running around and having fun. When you see them in here with their families, it’s tough,” added the veteran rearguard. “It’s really sad, especially this time of year, so we do our best to try to put a smile on their face and keep things happy for one day if we can.”
It’s safe to say they did just that.
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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