Saturday, July 28, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Laughter filled City National Arena Wednesday afternoon.
Whether is was on the ice, in the locker rooms or the complex’s hallways, the Golden Knights were able to put smiles on the faces of pediatric patients from University Medical Center Hospital. The event made the children Golden Knights for a day.
“Some of these kids have had a really tough time in their young lives and if we can just for a few hours take them away from their daily struggles and challenges then it really does feel great,” Golden Knights president Kerry Bubolz said.
The children, ages 8-14, started by signing a contract to join the team while sitting between coach Gerard Gallant and Bubolz. They enthusiastically held up their customized Golden Knights jersey with their name on the back for their parents, who looked on proudly from the back of the room.
After interviews with media in attendance, the children would head to the locker room where their gear, nameplate and a giant player card with their picture on it awaited them.
An off-ice warm up led by Golden Knights forward Ryan Carpenter followed. Carpenter and other coaches showed the children hockey skills, from dribbling hockey balls through cones to firing shots into a net guarded by Carpenter.
Then the kids laced up their skates and took to the ice.
Some had never been on the ice before, and were eased into things with coaches holding their hands for stability. Others — like Hayden Slattery — burst onto the ice and began stickhandling immediately.
“It was pretty cool,” Slattery said. “My favorite part was just the thought of Ryan Carpenter being out there on the ice with me. He gave me a tip on my slapshot to widen my stance to help my shot.”
Slattery skated up and down the rink, and even deked past Carpenter for a goal.
“It’s fun to interact with the kids and see them excited about being a Knight for a day,” Carpenter said. “They’re having a good time but to see the smile on their faces, and even with the adversity they may have faced and the way they’ve handled it, and they’re still having a good time kind of puts life into perspective. There’s more to life than just hockey.”
Most of the children are now out patients and still suffering from the effects of their injuries or illness.
“It’s especially tough for our burned patients,” said Danita Cohen, Chief Experience Officer at UMC. “They are embarrassed, quite frankly, to come out in public. It’s hard for them and they’re very ashamed, so if they can do things with other kids and feel the same way, they’re more likely to do it.”
But Wednesday the children were all smiles.
“I was so excited, I couldn’t even believe it,” said 9-year-old Kai Aiden Fields. “Today was amazing. I kind of don’t know how to skate but I’ll learn.”
Fields really embraced his status as Golden Knight for a day, handing out his player cards to anyone he could find, always taking the time to autograph them first.
“I’m so ecstatic for him,” Fields’ mother Leilani said. “ We are so blessed that we’re able to experience something like this. He has been so excited we’ve been talking about it for weeks. Every day he reminded me, asking if it’s the day, and he set his own alarm this morning.”
The event even furthers the Golden Knights’ efforts to ingratiate themselves in the community.
“Our saying internally is ‘community is a contact sport, just like hockey,’” Bubolz said. “We have to continue every single day to get out there and do things. This stuff isn’t hard to do, it’s just taking the time to do it. This community has given us a lot so we want to continue to do our part giving back. Events like this give me a lot of joy. It makes you feel good that we’re not just doing something on the ice, but something that’s bigger than that.”
The children finished up the event at MacKenzie River Pizza inside the complex, where the Golden Knights treated them and their families to a pizza dinner.
“It was incredible,” Cohen said. “This is their offseason and they should be at home with their families, but they reach out to our families to say, ‘Hey come hang out for an afternoon with the Golden Knights.’”