PHILADELPHIA – Shayne Gostisbehere’s charity project, the “GhostBear’’ Foundation, assists ill or disabled children, meaning he has a great appreciation for the mission of helping health-challenged young people.
The Flyers defenseman was front and center on the Skate Zone ice on Wednesday when students from the Overbrook School for the Blind attended practice and later skated with the players.
It was one of those opportunities for the professional players to give back something to the community, a source of pride throughout the organization.
There were smiles all around as players assisted some with the basic skills of skating, while others were able to take part in a few drills with players like Wayne Simmonds.
“We’re letting them come into our world a little bit,’’ said Gostisbehere. “Let the breeze hit their face, get ‘em goin’. I saw the smiles on their faces, it’s awesome to have them out there.’’
Some of the kids were actually pretty good.
“It was really surprising,’’ Gostisbehere said. “There were a couple kids who could really play.’’
Captain Claude Giroux found a young skater who “wanted to go really fast,’’ so Giroux took hold and quickly skated in big loops around the rink.
“It was awesome,’’ said a smiling Giroux. “I was lucky enough to skate around with Stephanie for about 20 minutes. Just the way she was laughing and having fun, it was pretty special.’’
Giroux takes part in a lot of these events, including visits to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
He understands the importance of having a pro athlete interact with the community.
“I think the Flyers do a good job, they help us out,’’ he said. “They show us the direction to help the community. They make sure we do the right things out there.’’
Corban Knight, still recovering from a dislocated collarbone back in October, appeared to be having fun with one young skater, occasionally leaning over and whispering encouragement.
“It was great,’’ he said. “Whenever you get a chance to skate with kids like that, they’re so excited. It’s definitely special.
“I was encouraging (his partner), telling him what to expect, like if we were going to turn or stop. It was funny, you could definitely see the joy on his face. So it was definitely very rewarding.’’
For those kids who aren’t totally visually impaired, a large, noise-making puck was employed.
At one point, a player scored and he and Simmonds raised their sticks together.
“Some of them were nervous, some were excited,’’ Sean Couturier said. “But I think most of them had fun, which is most important.’’
Overbrook School for the Blind, founded in 1832, serves approximately 200 students, ages 3 to 21. The 26-acre campus, located in West Philadelphia, prepares its students — all of whom are blind, visually impaired or living with other challenges — to have the greatest opportunity to experience active and fulfilling lives.
At Wednesday’s event, the players’ level of vision ranged from 10 percent or less to totally blind.
Blind hockey came to the United States six years ago and there are now 10 established blind hockey programs in the country.
According to Mike Shanley, a forward on the U.S. Blind Hockey Team, there are nine established teams in the country, including the New York Nightshade and Hartford Braillers.
Flyers coach Scott Gordon enjoyed working with these kids and gave the impression he would like to see them come back again some time.
“They were excited, you could just see it in their faces,’’ Gordon said. “The players got a kick out of seeing the kids have a good time.
“We’re very fortunate to be in this situation here, as part of the Flyers, and to see those kids be able to experience something like that is awesome.’’