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Coyotes bring gifts, holiday cheer to Phoenix Children’s Hospital

Arizona Coyotes players Clayton Keller, Nick Merkley, Max Domi and Niklas Hjalmarsson (Norm Hall, Arizona Coyotes)

PHOENIX — The 2017-18 season has been a trying one for the Arizona Coyotes. On Wednesday, the players were reminded that those trials are trivial.

All but three of the players on the Coyotes roster visited the Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon to bring gifts and a little bit of holiday cheer to kids facing much greater trials. The players broke up into small groups to better canvass the hospital and not overwhelm the kids.

In one wing of the hospital, Tobias Rieder dubbed himself the reindeer of the group as he dragged a wagon full of blankets, stuffed animals, tablets and other presents. Rieder, Derek Stepan and Alex Goligoski entered the rooms of several kids to talk with them and present them with gifts.

“The guys on our roster get to play a game for a living,” Stepan said. “You come here and this is the real world. To see how tough these kids are, see how resilient these families are, it really puts a lot of things in perspective.”

The Coyotes have visited the Phoenix Children’s Hospital every year since they arrived in the Valley in 1996, except one. In 2014, goaltender Devan Dubnyk had the mumps, forcing the team and hospital to cancel the visit for fear of spreading the disease via other players who might have been carriers.

The only players who missed Wednesday’s visit were Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Brendan Perlini, who are both sick and were excluded as a precaution, and newly acquired forward Josh Archibald, who just arrived in the Valley on Tuesday evening and has a host of living arrangements to sort out.

The hospital requested that media not list the full names or conditions of the children whom the Coyotes visited, but the Stepan-Goligoski-Rieder group visited a 10-year-old girl named Maria, who had just started walking again, and a 9-year-old boy named Gilbert. Maria got a Kindle; Gilbert got a giant blanket with the Coyotes logo on it.

“A couple of them obviously are pretty shy,” Rieder said. “I think I would be, too if was laying in a bed and there was a camera crew walking in, but I think they’re excited and we’re happy to get a couple of smiles out of them. They don’t have it as easy as we do.”

The Coyotes visited about 60 kids on Wednesday.

“You don’t want to see anyone unhealthy, but especially kids,” Goligoski said. “If we can come in here and put a smile on their face, it means a lot. This one hits home more than a lot of the other stuff we do.”

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