That Time when Luke Schenn and I broke the rules at Sick Kids Hospital

Originally posted this as a Twitter Thread which seemed to resonate with some folks…

Here is the story in full…

Watching Luke Schenn hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup makes me think about the time Luke Schenn and I broke the rules at Sick Kids Hospital. Rewind to a number of years ago, when I was running the Leafs Social Media team.

That job was filled with perks, but also some really tough days as well. Tough because very few on the organization saw the role for what it was: a storyteller. Most thought ‘There’s the guy who sends tweets’. That is super frustrating and probably deserves a thread of its own, for another day. Anyhoo, back to the story…

Every year, the Leafs visit Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Rain or shine, winning season or losing season, the players always show up. It’s written in contracts that X amount of public appearances are mandatory but the Sick Kids visit is one no player wanted to miss. This goes the same for staffers. I was lucky enough to ‘cover’ the event numerous times, but one time really stands out.

Let me set the scene: the entire Leafs team shows up and waits in a room. There’s some chit chat, but all definitely aware we are in a hospital for children. Right next door there is another, larger room that is more like a family room filled with couches, bean bag chairs and some fun things: air hockey, bubble hockey, board games, puzzles. This is the room the players and kids who are currently patients meet in. The initial meet is more for the cameras, as kids and their families walk in and are met with the whole Leafs team. Players are in their jerseys so it’s easier to know who is who. It’s a pretty magical moment to see faces light up. Yes the kids are over the moon, but you can also see it with the parents. This is a nice break from the treatments, the stress and anxiety that comes along with their situation. Everyone wins. Like I said before, it’s magical. This is phase 1 of the visit. The mixer, if you will. All your favourite news organizations are there doing what they do. Then the cameras get shut off and go away. Stories get filed. The players on the other hand head to phase 2 of the Sick Kids visit.

With bags full of Carleton The Bear toys and other hockey related Leafs merch, the players break into smaller groups and visit the rooms of kids who were not able to come to the mixer. This means kids who are not mobile or kids who are in situations that cannot allow them to be in larger groups. It also meant kids who don’t have long to live. This is something that you cannot prepare for. There was only one rule and the nurses and staff stressed it: outside of the family games room, NO PHOTOS are to be taken. Part of why I was there was to take photos but I totally understood the no photos rule and followed it – no problem.

So Luke Schenn and I got paired together for the phase 2 part of the Sick Kids visit. At this point I believe Luke was 21 or so and just got named or was about to be named an assistant captain of the Leafs under Ron Wilson. He was really showing growth on the ice, and from what I was witness to, really showing growth off the ice too. So here we were, at the hospital, going room to room talking to families and visiting kids in really challenging situations. Luke was great. Not much of a talker but finding common ground with a gift, or some hockey talk with the kids or parents, and of course signing autographs when asked. We visited four or five rooms and then we walked in to our final room of the day and we were not prepared.

There was a small child, a boy, about 7 or 8 years old… It was hard to make out what he looked like as he had so many tubes and wires covering most of his face and a pretty large apparatus surrounding him. Many noises and beeping sounds filled the room. It felt like the mechanical parts were trying to drown out everything else. My heart sank. I thought what a cruel world we live in that this child has to go through this. I looked at Luke and he seemed calm and right when I was about to ask him if he was ok, the father of the child popped out of a chair and introduced himself to Luke. He was wearing a Leafs jersey. And told us he and his boy were huge fans. I pictured the dad and his boy trying to watch Leafs games through the all the wires and machines. I pictured them not being able to high five each other after a goal, I pictured them not being able to hug after a win. My heart was aching for this dad. Luke and him were winding down their pleasantries, and the dad asked for a photo. Now remember, the staff hammered home NO PHOTOS. They – Luke and the dad – looked at me. I couldn’t get a word out. The dad handed me his phone and they both went on either side of the son’s bed. They posed, and just as I was about to take a pic, my head was overwhelmed with thoughts… ‘What if the flash sets off a reaction of some sort?’ ‘What if the operation of This phone hurts this child in some way?’ ‘What if I break the rules and the entire Leafs organization gets blamed?’ I pictured my face on the front page of every news site and the years of hate getting sent my way. I was getting dizzy and about to fall over. Then the Dad walked over thinking I was having an issue with his phone, and in a soothing voice said ‘I am giving you permission to take this photo, this may be the last photo we have of our son.’

I lost it (on the inside) and was barely holding in the emotions, the sobbing that I wanted to so badly to release. Then Luke gave me a head nod and mouthed ‘it’s okay’. We were doing this. This photo was getting snapped. And like that, it was taken. The dad stood up and took his phone back, then asked me if I had children. I said I did. A girl who was 4. He then asked Luke if he had children, to which Luke replied “I’m only 21, so no.” We all shared a brief laugh. That nervous laugh of realizing our hockey heroes are… still sometimes just kids themselves. So when I saw Luke Schenn, now 30 years old, lift the Stanley Cup the other night I thought of that boy, that family, that moment, and sometimes it’s ok to break the rules.

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