Chris Higgins Comes Home for a Cause With No Boundaries
Chris Higgins walked into the room Tuesday afternoon at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park on Long Island, ready to do his best to put a smile on the faces of some young patients. A young boy started the proceedings with a question more challenging than any reporter would ask.
"So how tough are you"?
Higgins sized up his interrogator, a boy of about 7 who has clearly been through a lot. "Probably not as tough as you," he said.
Later on, Frank Fusco watched as his 14-year-old son Brian spoke with the New York Rangers forward. "It means a lot to Brian and the other kids that someone famous like Chris Higgins takes the time to talk hockey and listen to what they have to say," said Frank. "For us it's a bonus that we both happen to be Rangers fans. For one hour today, with so much going on in Brian's world, there was a sense of calm."
The visit from the 26-year-old Higgins, born and raised on Long Island, was part of the Garden of Dreams -- the charitable foundation for Madison Square Garden. The trip kicked off the Rangers' affiliation with the Long Island hospital. "We have been working on a partnership with Schneider Children's for months," said MSG VP Sammy Steinlight. "When Chris became a Ranger, it was perfect."
Higgins was acquired in the June trade with Montreal for Scott Gomez. His parents still live in Smithtown, while Chris and his brother own a home in nearby Huntington. During the season, the new Rangers forward will live in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. While Long Island is divided by the intense passions of Rangers and Islanders fans, Higgins was especially happy to make today's trip home.
"This was the first community appearance I've made as a Ranger," said Higgins, "and I don't think it could have been a better spot. I've played hockey at the New Hyde Park rink. I played there when I was 13 and I played there with the Police team last year when I was getting ready to come back from an injury. I love making the hospital visits, but this is home. I can't tell you how much it means to me."
Schneider Children's chief of staff Arthur Klein said Higgins' appearance "humanizes our care." The young patients each received a Rangers gift bag, complete with a camera to capture the moment. Higgins signed autographs for the patients and everyone they knew who followed the NHL. He answered their questions ("They were better than the ones I usually get from you guys," Higgins joked with reporters).
He said he is still in touch every day with fellow Long Islander Mike Komisarek, his longtime Canadiens teammate now with Toronto. He skated this summer with Calgary forward Eric Nystrom and "if it's okay to say this, a lot of the Islanders."
Higgins was asked about the influx of National Hockey League players from Long Island, including new Stanley Cup ring owner Rob Scuderi. "It's a result of what the Islanders built in the '80s," said Higgins, who grew up a Canadiens fan. "It's because of those Stanley Cups and everything else. Even today, you see Clark Gillies, Gerry Hart, Bobby Nystrom, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Pat LaFontaine ... so many of them all around the Island. What you're seeing in our development is the fruits of their work."
And then after saluting the legacy of the Islanders, the new member of the New York Rangers continued his visits with children cherishing the distraction. When it comes to doing the right thing in the community, hockey rivalries are put aside.