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Gladiators deliver 'teddy bear toss' donations to sick kids

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Gwinnett Gladiators assistant captain Andy Brandt talks to Emily Chiaravalioti in her room at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Monday afternoon. Players went to talk to some patients and give them stuffed animals from the team's teddy bear toss.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Gwinnett Gladiators assistant captain Andy Brandt talks to Emily Chiaravalioti in her room at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Monday afternoon. Players went to talk to some patients and give them stuffed animals from the team's teddy bear toss.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Gwinnett Gladiators forward Joey Haddad gives a stuffed animal to Marina Gonzalez on Monday afternoon at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. Members of the team brought the stuffed animals to kids from the organization's annual "teddy bear toss" held in January.

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Gwinnett Gladiators visit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Players from the Gwinnett Gladiators hockey team deliver stuffed animals to kids at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Monday, Feb. 6. The stuffed animals were collected during the team's annual "Teddy Bear Toss."

Players from the Gwinnett Gladiators hockey team deliver stuffed animals to kids at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Monday, Feb. 6. The stuffed animals were collected during the team's annual "Teddy Bear Toss."

ATLANTA -- Marina was shocked, and not quite sure what to do with her new Dora the Explorer doll.

Johan bashfully admitted he wasn't much in to hockey, but smiled as he accepted a massive stuffed "Angry Bird."

Garnise, given a choice from dozens of stuffed animals, happily selected the biggest, whitest teddy bear of the bunch.

A handful of Gwinnett Gladiators players visited Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite on Monday afternoon, dishing out some of the goodies from last month's "teddy bear toss" to sick kids. Glads forward Andy Brandt was a natural, the chief goofball asking questions and drawing smiles from the kids in a battle for their lives.

"It's awesome," Brandt said. "It's great to be able to come out and shine a little light for some of the kids here. Being able to put a smile on their face means a lot to us."

Brandt and five teammates -- Cody Brookwell, Paul Flache, Pat Galivan, Joey Haddad and Shane Sims -- lugged six plastic bags jam-packed with stuffed animals into Scottish Rite at about 2 p.m. Monday before transferring them to a couple of large plastic wagons.

Playing Santa a few weeks late, they roamed the halls knocking on doors and surprising unsuspecting kids with their bounty, talking about video games and school and the Super Bowl.

"It's an honor for us to be able to come here and put a smile on their faces and see the different reactions of different kids," Flache, the Gladiators' captain, said. "Some kids have no idea what hockey is and some kids love it. It's great just to see that it puts a smile on their face and it raises their day with just a little bear."

"It's a treat for us."

Each year, the Gladiators designate one home game for their teddy bear toss, where fans wait for the home team's first goal before rushing the glass and chucking all varieties of stuffed animals onto the ice. The donations are then distributed to various children's charities.

Over the years, the team has collected nearly 50,000 stuffed animals. The recipients have ranged from kids pushed around by Hurricane Katrina to children with Gwinnett County DFACS.

A Gladiator spokesman said that approximately 5,000 plush toys were collected at this year's event, held Jan. 14. Just a small percentage was delivered Monday.

"At the end of the day you just feel fortunate for what you have," Brandt said, "For them to battle through their illness, and to see them with a smile on their face, it really makes you feel good."