Wings spread holiday cheer at Children's Hospital

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
From left, Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg, Steve Ott and Frans Nielsen chat with Karl Burns, 10, of Detroit.

Detroit – Forget about the hockey and the losing and the sense of frustration building around the Red Wings for a moment.

Their annual visit of Children’s Hospital of Michigan within the Detroit Medical Center might be coming at just the right time.

For the kids this holiday season, and for the players themselves an opportunity to keep everything in perspective.

“As much as it helps the kids, it’s going to help us as well,” said Tomas Tatar, of Wednesday’s visit. “Put some smiles on kids’ faces, it’s just a good feeling.”

Red Wings players make room-to-room visits, drop off toys for the hospital, and greet families and selected patients at the Red Wings Play Zone, a special area in the hospital’s lobby.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard remembers making this annual visit when he was younger, compared to now as a father of two young boys.

“It’s a lot tougher now that I have children of my own, going in there and seeing what those children are battling,” Howard said. “You know how strong they are, (but) it makes it tough and you just realize how fortunate you are when you go home and I have two healthy boys and it really puts things in perspective.

“It (wins, losses) doesn’t really mean all that much in the grand scheme of things. There’s a lot of people in this world that are going through much worse. By going over there, it’s tough to see what the families are dealing with and the children, but at the same time it’s also rewarding to be able to give them a couple moments of joy.”

Coach Jeff Blashill has unique ties to this Children’s Hospital and others, being that his niece has a rare blood disorder (called DVA) and is treated at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, but has had children of friends treated at other hospitals and overcome obstacles.

“One of my best friend’s young boy had cancer at an early age and just now has beat it and he’s doing a great job, but I lived vicariously through them and their struggles,” Blashill said.

“My niece spends a lot of time at the hospital, she has a blood disorder and she has blood transfusions and spends a lot of time…there are times when a Saturday night is spent at the hospital instead of enjoying each other.”

Blashill’s son had heart surgery when the child was two years old.

“We spent a couple of days at Children’s Hospital, and that time was unbelievable for me to see what my son was fixable but a lot of the poor young kids and their familes, what they have isn’t necessary fixable or curable.

“If we can go in and help put a smile on their faces, it’s a great, great thing.”