Sharks’ extraordinary gesture shows the hockey world at its best

The San Jose Sharks made a young man’s dream come true Tuesday night and showed how big hockey’s heart is when it comes to caring for others.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the bubble of the NHL, with all its attendant rivalries, spectacles, controversies and tensions. But there are occasions where those energies are dwarfed by hockey’s true power: the power to improve lives and provide comfort to brave people who are as deserving of our respect and admiration as anyone.

Tuesday night in San Jose was just such an occasion. The Sharks hosted the Panthers, but more importantly, they hosted Sam Tageson, a lifelong fan of the team living with a congenital heart condition. In fact, they did more than that: as part of a joint effort between the Sharks Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Sharks signed the 17-year-old to a one-day contract, allowed him to practice and spend the day with players, and made him the first-ever non-player in team history to skate through the giant Shark head for the pre-game warmup and stand with players during the national anthem.

Although the team’s players and most NHLers do charity work away from the cameras, the public nature of this project made it particularly poignant and the reaction to the Sharks’ gesture on social media has been immense. San Jose GM Doug Wilson has done charitable work since he was a star NHL player himself and was one of thousands in the arena who were deeply moved by Tageson’s story and spirit.

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“If you were in the building, I’m sure you’d have seen that there wasn’t anyone who wasn’t in tears,” Wilson told Wednesday. “What’s great about our game is the impact we can have on people’s lives. Our players just embraced Sam and the whole experience yesterday. You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give, and it’s one of our proudest moments when we can help somebody else out.”

Wilson received scores of calls from people who were hugely impressed by the gesture, but he stressed that what took place was simply a reflection of the inherent decency of everyone associated with the sport.

“Last night was for the young man, not for anyone else, and the credit for that goes to all the players who play the game and all the people who are involved with this game,” Wilson said. “Seeing Sammy after the game, as his mother said, it was the greatest moment in his life. It was extremely special.”