NHL legacy project builds a treehouse, and happiness, at Columbus Ronald McDonald House

The NHL and Columbus Blue Jackets built a three-story hockey-themed treehouse within a stairwell at the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, the largest in the world, as part of All-Star weekend.

Columbus Blue Jackets

As the NHL and the Columbus Blue Jackets began the unveiling of a one-of-a-kind legacy project at the Ronald McDonald House as part of the 2015 All-Star weekend, a small voice interrupted the proceedings.

"It’s 9:30, I have to go to my surgery, I’ll be back!"

Hearing a child say these words drove home the realities of families whose children face significant health concerns. It’s families like these who are served by the Columbus Ronald McDonald House, the largest in the world.

The Columbus Ronald McDonald House serves 3,500 families by providing a home away from home as their children battle serious illness. The House provides free of charge a place to stay, meals and now a unique, three-story, hockey-themed treehouse.

"We like to give something back every time we bring a big event to a community," said NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. "The legacy treehouse project, the fact that we’ve created it in partnership with Blue Jackets, we couldn’t be more proud. It is nothing short of phenomenal. The creativity that has gone into creating a treehouse in a stairwell was beyond my comprehension until I saw it myself."

The treehouse was built to provide a place for children to play, forget about their health struggles for a while and also participate in a bit of exercise that can be helpful in recovering from illness.

In the stairwell, the first floor has a frozen pond for floor hockey with a scoreboard; the second floor is a converted locker room with sticks, skates and gloves and the third floor has a jungle gym that has been built to look like a Zamboni. There is also a clear tunnel slide connecting the two sides of the stairwell to each other.

Boston Bruins’ forward Patrice Bergeron was one of the NHL All-Stars who came to reveal the legacy project. The 6-foot-2 hockey player was amazed to see what could be built around a set of stairs.

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"I’ll never look at a stairwell the same way after seeing this one," Bergeron said. "Other ones will be pretty boring. It’s definitely great, the kids started having fun right away from the get go."

Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno is a captain for the All-Star game. At the unveiling he was looking forward to seeing the kids’ reactions to the treehouse. He joined his fellow hockey players in playing around with the kids who were trying out all the elements within the stairwell.

"It’s so great what the NHL and the Foundation have come together to do," Foligno said. "I have friends who’ve used (the House), I know how valuable it is. People come from far away to get their kids healthy and it’s amazing what this place does for them. It’s gratifying to do something like this for the kids to enjoy themselves because they are really out of their norm when they are here we’re so happy that we could facilitate that."

The NHL builds a legacy project as part of every All-Star game, but this one was able to build on the years long partnership the Jackets have had with the Ronald McDonald House. Seeing players and their wives helping around the House or neighboring Nationwide Children’s Hospital is not an unusual sight.

"When we come to the city, we want to compliment the things the Blue Jackets have done in the community day in day out," Bettman said. "They know what they believe to be an effective and important part of the community and we wanted to work with them on the things that made sense to them."

Bettman said the stairwell treehouse boggles the mind. He said the project not only displayed incredible creativity, it also reinforced the vision of Blue Jackets founder John H. McConnell who made giving back to the community a priority for the team.

"The vision and commitment starting with John H. McConnell’s desire to bring hockey to Columbus," Bettman said. "He never waivered in that passion and that is a legacy John P. (McConnell) has continued. We take great pride as a league when a franchise is so much a part of the community and gives back to the community in so many ways."

As morning turned to afternoon, the children’s voices you heard were not announcing upcoming surgeries. Instead, they were full of laughter and excitement as youngsters roamed from level to level in the new treehouse. Bringing laughter and joy into the lives of seriously ill children — even for just a moment – is what will be the project’s, and part of the All-Star weekend’s legacy.

Follow Alison on Twitter at @AlisonL