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Toronto Maple Leafs lift some young spirits with annual trip to Sick Kids hospital

Sick Kids visit is a tradition for the Leafs, who this year will also star in holiday-themed promotional video

Auston Matthews poses for a photo with 4-year-old Leo at Sick Kids Hospital. The visit to Sick Kids Hospital is a tradition for the Maple Leafs, dating back to the 1920s.

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Auston Matthews poses for a photo with 4-year-old Leo at Sick Kids Hospital. The visit to Sick Kids Hospital is a tradition for the Maple Leafs, dating back to the 1920s.

Anthony Serracino, 16, is a self-proclaimed hockey super-fan, who never expected to meet all of the Toronto Maple Leafs players at once.

He had that opportunity Monday, on the Leafs’ annual visit to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “For me it was a dream come true,” Serracino said. He even had the opportunity to chat with 20-year-old centre Auston Matthews, and get advice on puck drops from centre Dominic Moore.

Serracino, who said he’s been at the hospital since August when he was diagnosed with leukemia, was one of ten kids who met with the entire team as a group before the players and coach Mike Babcock went to visit kids in their rooms one-on-one.

The visit is a tradition for the Leafs, dating back to the 1920s.

“I come here on a regular basis and the people here are stars,” Babcock said. “If you think of your children getting diagnosed with something, let’s say cancer, it’s an awful thing and you want to go to the best place, with the best doctors, so you can feel the best. To me that’s what this place is all about.”

Making the trip with the whole team, Babcock said, helps give all the players some perspective and gratitude.

“Sometimes when things are going really good in your life you need to take a step back, take a deep breath to understand how lucky you are,” he said.

Many of the kids who met the Maple Leafs at the hospital were feeling like the lucky ones Monday. Nine-year old Anthony Jeke was all smiles while playing an NHL video game with left wing James van Riemsdyk.

“He’s kicking our butt too,” van Riemsdyk joked.

Eight-year-old James Hack, who’s battling cancer, was feeling excited about meeting all the players, and getting to play air hockey with them.

His brother William said the family was looking forward to meeting the Leafs. “Our family’s definitely a hockey family. We watch baseball, and I like to watch basketball, but I think hockey’s our main family sport,” he said.

Right wing Nikita Soshnikov said it’s “so important” for the team to stay involved with the hospital and make the annual visit.

“When you see their faces they’re happy to see you here,” he said. “It’s good when you go out and make the kids happy, I think it’s a great day.”

On top of the patient visits, this year the Leafs will also be featured in a holiday themed campaign video.

Babcock, Leafs alum Wendel Clark, and five other players donned hair nets and good-natured grins to take part in this year’s video, which will air in about a week.

The video involves the Leafs helping bake a giant cookie for Santa Claus, to help him find the hospital where some children will be staying over the holidays.

Babcock said he didn’t taste the cookie yet, but “they’ll be great, I promise.”

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