Maple Leafs score smiles

BRYN WEESE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Wesley Payne is luckier than most of his peers at Sick Kids hospital because he can still play hockey.

The 15-year-old avid Leafs fan, who suffers from a vascular malformation in his right arm that makes him vulnerable to infection, got the chance to meet his idol, Vesa Toskala, yesterday as almost the entire Leaf roster met with the hospital's young patients.

"It's an inspiration, that's what it is," Wesley, a goalie, said. "It's a great experience to meet these guys because we're all in here and we're all sick. But, for half an hour, we get to escape and we're with our idols and heroes."

Hospital spokesman Lisa Lipkin said the event is a great opportunity to boost patient morale. Wesley agreed.

"You may not realize it, but it actually does make us get better faster," he said. "It gives us a reason to get better."

The players, too, found the experience rewarding, if only for the smiles they received.

"I think that's the most special thing about it -- is that you can put a smile on their face just by meeting them," said Matt Stajan, who helps out in the cardiac department on his own. "You don't realize how much these kids look up to you playing for the Leafs and to put a smile on their face by coming here, signing an autograph and talking with them for a bit -- that's what makes you feel really good."

As for what Toskala told young Wesley: "I didn't come up with any great advice. I just told him to work hard," the Leafs netminder said afterwards. "I don't know if there are any secrets out there."

Wesley, for his part, said it was simple but probably the best advice he could get from one of his heroes.

Toskala said he looks forward to playing against Wesley one day in the NHL. "You never know," he said.


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