HOLLYWOOD — Florida Panthers star Sasha Barkov has said he is happy to make a financial contribution to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. The special teddy bears which the hospital will distribute to kids there certainly will put a smile on their faces.
His as well.
On Wednesday, the hospital hosted a toy drive to benefit the children who are staying at the hospital and unveiled the Barkov-themed ‘Cancer Bear’ which will be given to pediatric cancer patients during the holiday season.
The teddy bears are wearing a Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital hockey sweater complete with the Panthers logo on the sleeve and Barkov’s name and No. 16 on the back complete with a captain’s ‘C’ on the front.
The bears are the brainchild of 8-year-old Alivia Gustman who started the Cancer Bears nonprofit while her mother was being treated for breast cancer.
“When I was first introduced to Cancer Bears, I thought it was a great and touching story,’’ Barkov said through the hospital. “I wanted to see if we could do something together and help more people learn of Alivia’s charity.
“I am so happy it’s now going to happen with the amazing support of the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation, right around the holiday season where we will be able to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of deserving children.”
Barkov is one of many local athletes who have thrown their support behind the work done at the Hollywood hospital.
On Wednesday, long-time supporter Jeff Conine — who has a wing of the hospital named after him — praised the work Barkov has done over the years.
“It’s huge. When you have a player like Barkov who lends his name and does things for the hospital, it just creates awareness throughout the entire community about Joe D’s,” said Conine, an original member of the Florida Marlins who is affectionately known as ‘Mr. Marlin.’
”That, in turn, gets more support for these kids. It’s great to see him be so involved. When we first got here in 1993, we wanted to be involved in a children’s charity of some sort and obviously Joe DiMaggio and baseball is a great for us. We have been a great partner ever since.”
Barkov, who will be signing a number of the jerseys before they are given to the children, says he considers his relationship with the hospital to be something he is most proud of as his career in the NHL has taken off.
Not only does Barkov contribute $1,600 for each goal he scores and $800 for each assist to the hospital, but he also provides a suite at FLA Live Arena to each home game to support those connected to hospital.
Barkov has also said that visiting the hospital may do more for him than it does for the kids.
”When you go around and visit the kids or hand out toys in the hospital and see their faces,” Conine said, “they are mature beyond their years. They are handling these illnesses and the issues they have so well. They are just happy to see you, to get a toy handed to them. The parents are grateful to everyone in this organization who do what they do for the children.”
Barkov says he notices when the Panthers show the suite on the scoreboard during home games and it makes him feel good to see so many enjoying themselves at the game.
“I love that the kids get to come to our games,” Barkov told FHN said last spring. “Every game is full of kids, families and healthcare workers from the hospital. That makes me happy. I am looking forward to continuing to do that.”
After the Panthers were eliminated from the postseason last summer, Barkov went to the hospital to present them with his season totals.
Barkov’s cash contribution from goals and assists was close to $74,000.
In the first two seasons, the #BarkovScores4JoeD campaign has raised more than $105,000.
With nine goals and eight assists so far this season, Barkov will add close to $21,000 to that total.
“I’m really happy and honored that I can do that for the Joe DiMaggio Hospital,’’ Barkov said. “They really do an incredible job with the kids and all their families, helping and taking care of them.
“I decided I wanted to help in some way too. I score and donate money to help them.”
Barkov, obviously, could not attend the toy drive at the hospital on Wednesday as he and the Panthers were flying to Arizona for Friday night’s game against the Coyotes.
After returning to the lineup after missing the past eight games with a knee injury, Barkov left during the third period of Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to St. Louis with an apparent upper body injury.
Barkov’s status for Friday’s game is not known.
The Panthers practice at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday afternoon.
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT ARIZONA COYOTES
- WHEN: Friday, 9 p.m.
- WHERE: Gila River Arena; Glendale, Ariz.
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560
- Last season: Did not play
- This season: @Florida 5, Arizona 3 (Oct. 26)