HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Ice hockey players are some of the toughest athletes you'll ever meet. But some of them also have a softer side that can warm your heart. On the ice, they’ll fight you at the drop of a puck. But when it’s not game on, Huntsville Havoc players can be softies, especially when it comes to little miracles in the Regional neonatal intensive care unit at Huntsville Hospital for Woman and Children.
Standing in the middle of the unit, the guys were told “A baby that’s born at 40 weeks is full term,” by one of the nurses on duty. “We have babies born at 23 weeks here.” You could have heard a pin drop when she added, “We try to make it dark and quiet just like they’re inside mommy and grow them outside like they’re still inside.”
The players were visiting the NICU before putting on those special pink and blue jerseys for the 12th annual Melissa George Night with the Huntsville Havoc. The jerseys are auctioned off after the game to raise money to buy life-saving equipment through the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund.
Keith and Becky Jeffries own the team. She was right there with the boys when they visited. “This is amazing for them to see,” Becky said. “Sometimes they don’t understand what they’re playing for and coming up here and seeing these babies, they understand a little bit more of how important it is.”
Before the visit this year, the guys got together to do something they’d never done before. They made baby blankets. Becky came up with the idea while organizing her sewing room at home and recruited a couple of her players to sell their teammates on the idea. “It’s just something small for us to do and give a couple of hours,” defenseman Nolan Kaiser said. “But for the parents, it means a lot.”
They set up tables in the Havoc locker room and went to work. “It ended up being 15 guys there the one day and I think we made 15 or 20 blankets,” Kaiser said with a smile. Becky couldn’t have been happier saying, “They came in. We had some lunch. We sat down. They cut ‘em. They tied ‘em together and they were thrilled with it. They had a great time doing it.”
The goal was simple, bring a smile to the face of parents like Sara Clem of Harvest who delivered twin boys, Chase and David. They arrived early and each weighed less than two pounds. The boys gave her two of the blankets they’d made. “Thank y’all. This is so sweet,” she said.
And the guys felt good about what they were doing. “I know they’re going through tough times and stuff but for us to be able to see the reactions and stuff, it’s pretty good,” Kaiser said. They scored big with their little project. “The parents were going to be able to keep these blankets hopefully forever for that child and say hey, a hockey player made this blanket for you when you were teeny tiny. It’s yours,” Becky said. “And it was just something special for them to get to do.”
It’s a win for everyone involved, especially the players. “They put a lot of love into that blanket,” Jeffries said proudly. “And they want to give that love on and pass it on to that baby and the parents, let ‘em know they’re thinking of them.” Kaiser added, “It’s good to kind of get a perspective on other people’s lives sometimes and it’s always great to come up here and visit.” And they’ll be back.
The team had so much fun making the blankets and giving them to parents who have babies in the NICU, this could become an annual tradition. Jeffries liked that idea. She liked it a lot.