Sound Tigers, two boys from Make-A-Wish Foundation have fun at practice
BRIDGEPORT — The two newest members of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, if only for one day, were going around the dressing room, shaking hands with their new teammates at their stalls.
“Finally,” 5-foot-7 Travis St. Denis stage-whispered over to 5-foot-7 Stephen Gionta, “someone our size, hey, G?”
The vitals on Sam Lopa, 11, and Caleb Desjarlais, 4, haven’t posted to the Sound Tigers’ web site just yet, but the two boys, both associated with Make-A-Wish Connecticut, joined Bridgeport for Tuesday morning’s practice at Webster Bank Arena.
They had breakfast and lunch with the team, and in between they took part in a few drills and showed off their skating.
“I know we’ve been looking for some goal scoring,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson quipped as the two boys signed contracts at a table at the front of the room.
“We’ve got a little bit of size,” he said, putting a hand on Sam’s head, “and a little bit of speed,” he said with a pat to Caleb’s red hair.
The boys donned Sound Tigers sweaters, Sam’s with No. 5 on the back, Caleb in 26 borrowed from Josh Ho-Sang, and suited up for practice with some help.
Forward Casey Bailey noticed Sam’s stick needed new tape; defenseman Kane Lafranchise taped it up for him. Caleb dressed in Kyle Burroughs’ stall with the defenseman helping him.
“It’s funny, for sure, I know my dad did the same things for me when I was younger,” Burroughs said.
Then it was out to the rink to take warmup shots on goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, to stretch and to do some skating.
Late in practice, the team split up: Sam joined the defensemen and one forward line, and Caleb joined the other forwards, for a small-ice drill with two skaters against a goalie.
Teammates cheered as Caleb slipped pucks past Gudlevskis or when Sam found a way to beat Eamon McAdam, just back up from Worcester (ECHL) after the New York Islanders called up Christopher Gibson.
“Listen, that was a really fun morning,” Thompson said. “It’s nice to see two kids come in and be able to skate with us, to put a smile on their faces, to have a little fun with the guys. That’s what hockey’s supposed to be, fun.”
The boys are expected back at the arena on March 10, when a portion of the ticket proceeds from the Sound Tigers’ game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms — also “ComiConn Night,” with character appearances planned — will benefit Make-A-Wish Connecticut.
The organization sent Caleb, who has a rare white blood cell disease, to Disney World with his family, and Sam, who has a rare gastrointestinal disorder, went with his family to Sea World.
They got another neat experience on Tuesday with their families in the crowd. They talked for a few television cameras, and Caleb showed off both his speed and his ability to stop.
“It was a lot of fun,” Burroughs said. “It was cool to have those guys around. You could see their eyes light up. It makes it fun.”
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