ST. LOUIS - Ask Arianna Dougan what she wants for her 11th birthday and she'd probably say "nothing because I already got the best present I could ever ask for."
That's because her friend - Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko - was the winning bidder on the most coveted item in the live auction at Casino Night last week: a trip for two on the team's charter to Arizona and Colorado in late March.
As it turns out, Tarasenko was bidding to win the trip for Arianna and her mom.
On Monday, he surprised them by bringing them to the Blues locker room, where Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo presented Arianna with a jersey before Tarasenko gave her an envelope that contained the following message:
"You are invited to join Vladimir Tarasenko as his guest to fly with the St. Louis Blues to Arizona and Colorado for a two-game road trip leaving on March 28 and returning on March 31. You and a guest will fly on the team charter plane and stay at the team hotel in Phoenix and Denver."
As if that wasn't cool enough, the entire team then sang "Happy Birthday" to her in the locker room. There were no candles to blow out, but Arianna didn't really miss that part at all.
"I was crying in the background," said Arianna's mom, Lori Zucker. "She's so over the moon she doesn't realize what she's got yet. It won't hit home until she gets in the car. This has been the best birthday ever."
Arianna's 11th birthday is a special one because there was a good chance it wouldn't happen. At three years old, Arianna was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that affects the nerve cells and can spread everywhere in the body. Over the last eight years, she has relapsed four times and is currently undergoing treatment that appears to be working - Lori says her daughter is close to being cancer free again.
"The fact that we're celebrating an 11th birthday is just the most amazing emotional thing anyway," she said. "And then you add to it and see her walking around (the Blues locker room) and smiling and able to be here and get this amazing gift… it's amazing."
Tarasenko's friendship with Arianna started almost two years ago, when the two were paired together for a walk on the blue carpet prior to the team's Hockey Fights Cancer Night in October 2015. They connected instantly. A few days later, Arianna returned to Scottrade Center to trick-or-treat in the Blues locker room on Halloween with her peers at Friends of Kids with Cancer, where she spent time with Tarasenko again. At Hockey Fights Cancer Night last November, she was on the ice for a pregame ceremony with other cancer patients when Tarasenko skated to her for an unplanned selfie that went viral on social media.
Now, the two will get to spend more time together in Arizona and Colorado.
"It is so over-the-top amazing," Lori said. "This stranger to us who has befriended our family and done so much for us, he just has the biggest heart and is the kindest person. It's just amazing. It renews your belief in humanity when you meet someone that is so nice and generous."