The Pittsburgh Penguins have made a move to help reinforce the feels.
Before the team’s Saturday morning practice, the Penguins, with help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, announced the additions of five very special signings.
Eight-year-old Wyatt Hunt, 11-year-old Justin “JJ” Darts, 14-year-old Tyler Palmer, 15-year-old Noah Turner and 17-year-old Jacob Bradley were all given special one-day contracts and got to spend a day with their heroes.
“These five young men are inspirations to us all,” Rutherford told NHL.com. “It’s an honour for our entire organization to have them become Pittsburgh Penguins for a day.”
As part of the event, the quintet were each given a custom Penguins jersey with their name sewn onto the back and got to have their own locker for the day. Additionally, for those well enough to participate, a few got to get onto the ice and skate with some of the Penguins.
Darts, for example, got some goaltending tips from Marc-Andre Fleury.
Hunt, on the other hand, had never played hockey before but was eager to give it a shot.
“Ever since I saw my first game on TV with my dad, I'm like, ‘well that seems challenging,’” Hunt told the official Penguins website. “I want to challenge my life trying to balance and skate and with trying to shoot at the same time.”
And as it turns out, he got pretty good at it, according to Pittsburgh forward Nick Bonino.
“He was holding onto that stick pretty good and he got better at stick handling as it went on,” Bonino said.
For Hunt’s mother, Beth, and the other parents in attendance this was a moment they will never forget.
“It makes everything worth while,” Beth said. “It is absolutely unbelievable. Everything that he has had to go through. … This has just been absolutely amazing, just to see him so excited.”
Not just for kids and their families, this event also held special meaning to the Penguins players, as well.
“For kids to look up to us and to want to be a part of this, I think it's motivating," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think it's something that puts things in perspective as hockey players. We're all pretty fortunate to do this.”
And, perhaps, the most fortunate of all is the staff at the Make-A-Wish Foundation who organized this entire event, and do so with thousands of other children each and every day.
“This is the heart of our mission,” Dana Antkowiak, Marketing Communications Manager from Make-a-Wish of greater West Virginia and Pennsylvania, said. “It is making wishes come true for children with life threatening medical conditions.
“A wish has such a profound impact on our kids. It may be just a moment in time, but it has the power to impact that child and their family forever. When a child receives a wish they replace fear with confidence, they replace anxiety with excitement and sadness with hope. That is really what Make-A-Wish is all about.”