By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jason Zucker now plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 28-year-old is expected to start on Sidney Crosby’s line, after spending nine seasons with the Minnesota Wild.

Zucker’s NHL career is only part of his Minnesota story. 2016 is the year Jason Zucker met Tucker.

Tucker Hellstrom’s mother Dana reflected on that moment three years ago when they were in Arizona, “Jason was his favorite player, I said is that because your names rhyme? He said at first it was, but look how good of a shot he is, look how fast he was.  He’s just the best player out there.”

The two met a month after Tucker was diagnosed with bone cancer.  A quick visit from the Wild turned into a forever friendship.

Jason and his wife Carly, a sports caster, became close with Tucker’s family, spending time together the day before Tucker passed away.  Hellstrom said, “For me personally, he’s who I hope Tucker would have turned out to be and so to have him close to us what very comforting these past few years of not having tucker next to us.”

In honor of that bond, the Zuckers donated $160,000 of their own money to create a space which honors Jason’s hockey and Carly’s broadcasting.  Nicholas Engbloom with University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital told WCCO, “The space will impact children for the life of the hospital and if we have to build a new hospital and have to replace it, we’ll move it to a new hospital and we will always carry the Zucker Family Suite.”

“I realized when they played XBOX all those days in the hospital, Tucker always choose the Pittsburgh Penguins as the opponent to the Wild and then whenever he and I played, he said, outside of the Wild, that’s the next best team,” O’Brien said.

 “The two aren’t done yet,” she said. “They are gonna continue helping more communities, more kids;” Tucker and Zucker, a duo  forever.

Jason’s wife Carly and kids will remain in Minnesota.  Jason’s challenge, Give 16, which encourages people to donate 16 dollars or 16 minutes of time, will also live on in Minnesota.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield