For Rampage forward James Wright, the sight of several thousands of teddy bears raining down from the stands is not exactly new. He took part in several Teddy Bear Tosses during his junior days with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. But he never scored the goal that made it rain bears.
Last month was different, though, as his goal at 16:36 of the second period on Nov. 24th was memorable in more ways than one. His power-play goal ended Abbotsford Heat goaltender Barry Brust’s AHL shutout record at 268:17 minutes and also signaled the San Antonio faithful to toss more than 1,000 teddy bears onto the ice of the AT&T Center.
“It was pretty neat,” said Wright. “The bears were going to be thrown on the ice regardless of who scored for us, but I was pretty happy I was the one to do it.”
The journey for the teddy bears came full circle on Tuesday afternoon, as Wright and several of his Rampage teammates hand-delivered more than 100 teddy bears during the team’s annual holiday visit to the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.
“Just seeing the faces of the kids today is nice,” said Wright, who also delivered teddy bears to the Children’s Hospital last year. “The kids all look so excited and we are happy to be a part of it. It’s a great time of year to be doing this.”
Wright, along with his teammates and T-Bone, roamed the halls of the Children’s Hospital and delivered the bears to children and their families – stopping for plenty of photos along the way.
Among those who received a teddy bear was nine-year-old Jeric Ortiz. Despite his initial shyness, Jeric relished the chance to meet the Rampage players.
“I was so excited,” he said. “I’ve watched them on the ice but seeing them here now…”
Jeric, still clutching on the bear he had been given, struggled to find a word but after a few seconds he found just the right one.
“Wow,” he said with a beaming smile.
“It’s a breathtaking moment,” said Deseri Ortiz, Jeric’s mother. “It’s tough coming to the hospital so often, but being able to have these experiences is huge. I think it’s great for the children and the community.”
Back in the hallway, Rampage forward Andrea Deveaux carries the bucket of bears while Casey Wellman passes them out. In a corner of the emergency room waiting area, T-Bone gives high-fives to children and their parents.
Goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris has made it a point to stop and chat with every child he can during the visit. As one of the Rampage’s veteran players, and a father himself, he has taken part in several hospital visits and knows how meaningful they can be to the children.
“I think it means a lot because it helps center you a bit,” Grumet-Morris said. “When you give back to the community, especially with young kids here, it re-energizes you.”
“I think the most important thing here, though, is that we’re not just entertainers,” he said. “We want to be a part of this community and stay engaged.”
The Rampage will go back to work this week, playing three road games leading up to the holiday break. The children will also return to their lives, whether it’s returning home or staying in the hospital over the holidays. But they both carried smiles on Tuesday as a reminder that sometimes a soft, cuddly teddy bear and a visit can mean so much more.