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Pens deliver smiles at Children's Hospital

Kalem Nabors was a typical 11-year-old for a few moments Tuesday, waiting patiently for autographs from his favorite hockey players.

When he meets the Penguins in the future, he hopes it will be outside of a game at Mellon Arena. Or at a shopping mall. Or at a restaurant. Any change of scenery will do.

Nabors, who is from Vandergrift, is having brain surgery this morning at Children's Hospital. One day before his operation, he enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime.

The Penguins made their annual holiday trek to Children's Hospital yesterday and inspired many of the patients, none more than Nabors.

"This is so awesome," he said, his smile impossible to contain while looking at his favorite players. "I can't believe it."

The Penguins visited each child's hospital room, but Nabors and his mom, Bonnie, were concerned that they might miss out. So, instead of waiting in the room, they stood in a lobby by the elevator doors as waves of players and staff members came through.

"It is so amazing that they do this," Bonnie Nabors said. "And you can tell that the players are really enjoying themselves. I can't even tell you how much it means for him to meet them. Anything to take your mind off of what is going on is a good thing."

Every Penguins player on the roster made the trip, some of them staying at the hospital for more than two hours.

Visiting patients in the Intensive Care Unit was the most difficult part of the day for the Penguins, players said.

"That was really tough," said goalie Brent Johnson, who covered a number of floors with fellow goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. "It was difficult. But to see some of the kids light up when you visit them is great."

Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar were two of the Penguins who stayed the latest. Malkin spent nearly 30 minutes playing the Nintendo Wii bowling game with a patient. He showed off his bowling ability by scoring a 170.

"Not bad," Malkin said with a smile.

The Penguins even decided to cheer up patients with some holiday tunes. While visiting 5-year-old Cadence, Bill Guerin, Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Craig Adams, Mike Rupp and Pascal Dupuis sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

"It's really great being here," forward Max Talbot said. "You end up feeling like these kids are your little brother or little sister. Being here is priceless."

Nabors enjoyed a perfect day of autograph-seeking, landing nearly ever Penguins' signature, including his two favorite players.

"Crosby and Fleury are his favorites," Bonnie Nabors said. "It's tough to say which one he likes more."

Crosby was the first Penguins player to visit Nabors, while Fleury was the last, completing a perfect day only 24 hours before a scary one.

"I can't get over the fact that they all came here and stayed for so long," Bonnie Nabors said. "It's nice to see your hometown heroes do something like this. They're a special bunch of guys."

The Penguins brought a large collection of toys for patients while posing for numerous pictures.

In a time when professional athletes are often criticized for their behavior and insincerity, it became clear to everyone on hand that the Penguins enjoyed their visit. That fact seemed to affect the patients and their families as much as any of the gifts.

When Fleury and Johnson departed, a Children's Hospital employee thanked them for paying a visit.

"No," Johnson said. "Thank you."

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