Devils play Santa Claus

Hockey stars pay visit to Jersey City Medical Center

A VISIT FROM THE DEVILS – Hockey stars stop over to visit patients at Jersey City Medical Center for the holidays
A VISIT FROM THE DEVILS – Hockey stars stop over to visit patients at Jersey City Medical Center for the holidays

Perhaps the last thing you want to see if you’re a lying in a hospital bed recovering is a visit from a devil.

But for John Stewart, a lifelong resident of Hoboken, the appearance of New Jersey Devils may well have made this year’s holiday for him.

Stewart was lying on his bed on the sixth floor of Jersey City Medical Center on Dec. 17 when several players from the NHL hockey team came in to see him.

He didn’t know them, except vaguely from the news, and they didn’t know him.

Dressed in team jerseys, not Santa Claus suits, the four athletes were taking a tour of the medical center, where they greeted fans and gave autographs in the lobby before coming up stairs to say hello to some of the bedridden patients like John.

“I’m a lifelong resident of Hoboken,” John told the hockey players. “My son plays sports. But he plays football.”

Nico Hischier, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson, and Keith Kinkaid were amazingly cheerful considering their long trip up from Nashville where they had suffered a defeat the night before.

And for John, it was an unexpected break from the illness and he grinned at the athletes who gathered around his bed to bring him some holiday cheer before going down to the lobby where they were to be greeted by carolers bringing them good cheer.

This included Jersey City Police Capt. Joe Santiago, who is about as big a Devils fan as you can find, winning season or not.

Unrelated to the late Det. Melvin Santiago, Capt. Santiago was also part of a charity established in Melvin’s name. Melvin was ambushed in July 2014, but has since become a champion for the under privileged.

Vince DeFazio, also a member of the group, had come to the hospital dressed as Santa, and was on hand to greet the hockey players, claiming they are all on the same mission to help people around the holiday.

DeFazio and Capt. Santiago were scheduled to be part of a larger group of people who would fan out through Jersey City bringing gifts and good cheer to those who most need it.

“We figure to help between 75 and 80 people this holiday season.” – Vince DeFazio

While there were a lot of adult Devils fans on hand to get their autographs, many kids, some a little bewildered by the excitement, were there to see what the fuss was about and to get their photo taken with the stars.

This included Lia, a six year old from Jersey City, who didn’t skate, but seemed to like the limelight, grinning as she stood before the players.

The 11-year-old Nicholas said he did skate – a little – and was glad to have met them.

Hischier was the team’s No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL draft, and when he first appeared in the media, he sometimes struggled with his English.

Capt. Santiago brought a cell phone picture of him and other fans holding up a sign with one of Nico’s slightly skewed sayings, and laughed when Santiago showed it to him.

“I talk better than that now,” he  told Santiago over the hubbub of the crowd.

This visit was part of New Jersey Devils’ annual “Season of Giving” holiday campaign, a second visit to RWJBarnabas facilities that day, and a program that the Devils implemented since their first season in New Jersey in 1982.

Although likely tired from their hard fought game in Nashville, various members of the team paid visits to RWJBarnabas Health Care Centers in the week or so before Christmas.

Active in charity

In the past, the NHL team has worked with Goya, PSE&G, and the Prudential Center in Newark to host toy drives and to get donations for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Organizers who accompanied the team to Jersey City said the team has always been deeply involved with the community, not just during the holiday but throughout the year.

The players brought small tokens of their visit, and handed them out to kids and adults alike, signing autographs and posing with their fans.

Although they enjoyed the volley of carols cast their way by staff and others at JCMC, they grimaced when someone asked if they would sing, too.

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