Zucker and his little coach: Wild forward forms bond with young cancer patient at children’s hospital
Maybe it was fate.Jason Zucker and Jared Spurgeon had the option to pick the fifth floor or the sixth floor during a visit to University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital last December. They chose the fifth floor, and because of that seemi...
Maybe it was fate.
Jason Zucker and Jared Spurgeon had the option to pick the fifth floor or the sixth floor during a visit to University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital last December. They chose the fifth floor, and because of that seemingly insignificant decision, Zucker ended up meeting his biggest fan with the biggest heart.
Weeks before, on his eighth birthday, Tucker Helstrom attended a Wild game and immediately took to the fast Wild winger because their names sounded alike and were spelled almost identical. Weeks later, Tucker was hospitalized after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma - a rare form of bone cancer.
Tucker was excited because he knew a Wild player would be coming to visit. He had no clue who. Hanging over his bed was a “Team Tucker Go!” T-shirt that Tucker planned to give to whichever player came. On the back was Zucker’s name, only with the “Z” crossed out and replaced by a “T.” So imagine Tucker’s glee when Zucker himself walked into his room.
“That made the connection pretty easy,” Zucker, 24, said. “He was just a great kid. He was very energetic and happy. Very talkative. And he just had this peace to him that drew you to him all the time. And so for me it was something that I got drawn to him right away.”
From that day, a special friendship grew. Zucker went home and told his fiancee, Carly Aplin, about the little boy, and soon they would both be making frequent visits to Tucker and his family, especially before and after chemotherapy sessions to lift his spirits.
Last January, Tucker had to have a leg amputated. Mom, Dana Anderson-Helstrom, asked Aplin if Zucker would send over a stick. Aplin said, “No way,” that the two would head to the hospital soon after surgery.
Zucker and Aplin were the first non-family members to visit.
“We played Xbox and just hung out for, I think it was two or three hours that first night,” Zucker said. “Played Xbox and just kind of relaxed a little bit. It really felt like a friendship right away, and not necessarily a hospital visit. It felt like we were all friends and we were one good-sized family.”
It was then that Zucker and Aplin said to each other that they had to make certain Tucker, his parents Dana and Judd, and sisters, Kayci and Siera, remained a big part of their life.
“It felt like we knew them forever,” Aplin said.
Each time Zucker visited, he’d ask Tucker, a gigantic hockey and Wild fan, his opinion on the previous game. “He was pretty honest, which was hilarious,” Aplin said. “He just kept saying, ‘You need to shoot more. And not be a puck hog,’ and he was so sweet, and you know kids - they have no filters - he was just being dead honest, which was hilarious.”
Zucker recalled one stretch when he was struggling to score.
“He just said, ‘I have some advice for you,’ ” Zucker said, laughing. “And I said, ‘Alright Tuck, what have you got?’ And he said, ‘Back check hard and shoot more.’ ”
Over time, Tucker “forgot the back checking part. He just wanted me to shoot more and he told me that about 30 times.”
Aplin said that’s what was so special about the