BostonBruins.com - On an off day in March, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask made a visit to a sports store in Norwood, Massachusetts to pick out goalie equipment.
Only, it wasn't for him. It was for nine-year-old Maddie Santosuosso, and she had absolutely no idea that he was coming.
Rask walked into the store, found her checking out the gear, and successfully surprised her.
"Madison?" he said, giving her a slight pat on the back to get her attention. She turned around, her eyes widened, and her mouth opened in shock for a good five to ten seconds.
"I'm Tuukka, nice to meet you," he smiled, as he shook her hand. "Need help picking out some goalie gear?"
Once she realized that she was, in fact, meeting her favorite Bruin, the pair spent time outfitting her in head-to-toe new goalie gear, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Maddie, a native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, was in the midst of treatments for Stage IV Sarcoma, a rare cancer of the tissues that began in her hand and spread to her lungs.
"When I went there, I didn't know that she didn't know that I was coming, so they were kind of like 'Tuukka stay back, stay back because it's going to be a surprise,' and then we walked in there and she just kind of froze for a second," Rask said, as he recounted their meeting. "It was unbelievable."
They found her the perfect set of gear, and Rask even helped her test it out in the store, shooting pucks and giving her a stick tap on the pads. The surprise visit was documented by the Bruins' all-access television show on NESN, "Behind the B" (you can watch their meeting in Episode 12, found at BostonBruins.com/behindtheb).
"Looks like I don't have to go to practice tomorrow. Want to take my spot?" Rask remarked.
She was ready for action, and Rask invited her to come to one of the team's practices and have a pizza party afterwards.
Before a bear hug ended their visit, Maddie took off a blue bracelet from her wrist that read 'Maddie Strong' and held it out towards Rask. 'Would you like to wear my bracelet?' she offered.
He gladly accepted the gift, slipping it on his own wrist.
"It's at my house in a good place and I see it every day, and it reminds me about her," Rask said following the visit. He didn't want to risk losing it. "I decided to keep it at home and watch it every day."
So, with a few weeks left in the regular season, Maddie graced the Bruins with her presence during a practice at Ristuccia Arena on March 26.
She slipped on all of her new equipment with the help of the Bruins' staff, including a new Santosuosso jersey with the Spoked-B and No. 40 on the back, just like Rask.
Head Coach Claude Julien could barely finish speaking to the huddled group when they all saw Maddie making her way onto the ice and erupted in stick taps for their newest netminder.
The Bruins posted up around the faceoff circles and alternated sending pucks her way in goal, with Rask positioned right behind her to make sure she was okay.
"I'm here, I've got your back," he said to her and she successfully turned aside shots from Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk and the rest of the Bruins.
After Maddie's practice wrapped up, she received stick taps and pats on the helmet from the likes of Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara as she headed towards the bench smiling.
As Rask had promised, a pizza party ensued with the Bruins and her family, and she grabbed a seat next to Patrice Bergeron to enjoy her slice.
Maddie was a Bruin.
The only missing piece was a custom goalie mask like the one Rask wears. No worries though, as Rask had his mask's creator, Ron Slater, make a replica for her, with "Maddie" instead of "Rask" showcased on the front and a brick wall being smashed on the back, with a yellow ribbon and the words "Kick Sarcoma" displayed (images below via Ron Slater).
Now it's Maddie Time.
Since the visit, Maddie has continued on her track to recovery. Her family announced via their "Hope for Maddie" Facebook page on May 25 that they had some amazing news to share: "Maddie's MRI came back with no visible tumors!" the page announced. "Her family is obviously very excited about this news. They will still be continuing treatment for the next few weeks as a precautionary measure. And they thank all of you for your support, thoughts and prayers during this difficult time." The family also shared updates as Maddie recently underwent treatment in Germany.
"A lot of times, it's those hospital visits or school visits when you see a lot of kids, but when it's only one kid especially, you know, it's a big thing for me and for her," Rask said following their time together in March.
"So I'm definitely going to remember that and hopefully I'll see her many times in the years to come."
View Maddie's visit to practice in Episode 13 of Behind the B.