Matthews Make A Wish 1

TORONTO -- Auston Matthews walked through the doorway carrying a cake with a lit candle on it and said, “I heard it’s somebody’s birthday in here. Who is it?”

Liam Emery was almost too much in shock to answer the Toronto Maple Leafs center, but eventually raised his right hand to signal that he was the birthday boy. Fanatics arranged for Liam and four other children to meet Matthews at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto on Friday as part of a Make-A-Wish VIP experience at 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend.

There had been so many surprises for the group since their wish trip got underway Thursday and Liam, a Maple Leafs fan with leukemia from Greater Lakeburn, New Brunswick, thought he knew what was coming next. But having Matthews bring him a cake and sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 10th birthday went beyond his expectations.

“Unbelievable,” Liam said. “I thought [the surprise] was Auston Matthews, but I didn’t think he was going to bring me a cake.”

Matthews makes kid's day with birthday celebration

More memories were in store for Liam and the others in the group: Zackary Arsenault, a 15-year-old with leukemia from St.-Jerome, Quebec; Logan Labelle, a 12-year-old with Hodgkin lymphoma from Vercheres, Quebec; Cohen Arnette, a 15-year-old with a heart condition from Wooster, Ohio; and Grayson Briones, a 12-year-old with cancer from Granger, Indiana.

Their busy Friday will include attending the 2024 NHL All-Star Skills presented by DraftKings Sportsbook at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) and the weekend will culminate with the 2024 Honda (U.S.)/ Rogers (Canada) NHL All-Star Game on Saturday (3 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS).

“It’s just so cool because there’s so much stuff to do and so much stuff to see,” Grayson said.

Zackary, a Maple Leafs fan who said Matthews is his favorite player, was speechless when Matthews walked in, but was able to gather himself enough to get Matthews to autograph his All-Star Game placard and take a photo with him.

“It was super cool,” Zackary said. “I’ll never forget this.”

His father was just as excited.

“I’m a fan as much as he is, so it was a dream come true just being here with all these guys and the players and stuff,” Steve Arsenault said. “We are having a blast so far. It was Zackary’s dream coming here, so it’s amazing. ... It’s getting away from what we’ve lived over the last couple of years. We haven’t been able to travel outside of Quebec because of the disease. So now we’re not thinking about all of that, all of the past. It’s just a couple of days to focus on having fun and bring him to live his dream.”

Matthews Make A Wish 2

The Make-A-Wish children’s weekend of surprises began Thursday with Fanatics providing each with a $250 shopping spree at the NHL Fan Fair store at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, in addition to customized merchandise bundles, which included All-Star Game jerseys.

Cohen, a Columbus Blue Jackets fan who loves all the NHL mascots, loaded up on plush stuffed toys of Maple Leafs mascot Carlton, the Dallas Stars’ Victor E. Green, the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stormy and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Gritty. His wish to meet the mascots came true before the Mascot Dodgeball game at Fan Fair later Thursday afternoon. He also got to walk the red carpet with Blue Jackets mascot Stinger prior to the Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Player Draft on Thursday.

“He’s been very excited, and he’s not been sleeping because he’s been so excited,” said Cohen's mother, Erica Amstutz-Arnette. “The past couple nights, he could not wait to get here.”

Liam, who began skating and playing hockey was he was 2, used the money from Fanatics to purchase a Matthews Maple Leafs jersey, a hat, a mystery puck signed by New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes and a poster of Chicago Blackhawks center Connor Bedard. Matthews autographed that jersey Friday.

He couldn’t wait to get home and tell his friends all about it.

“I’m going to tell them I had an amazing time and I’m never going to forget it,” Liam said. “I just made a new core memory.”

Hockey has provided a needed distraction from his treatments for leukemia.

“We spend a lot of time in the hospital, so we’re fortunate that he’s able to do these things,” said his mother, Julie Bourgeois. “That’s what it’s about, seeing him smiling, seeing him happy, because it’s been a rough last few years. So seeing a smile on his face and being able to travel and being able to walk around and see all the things that he loves is amazing as his parents.”

The next surprise following the shopping spree was getting to see the Stanley Cup. Keeper of the Cup Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame brought the Cup early for them to get an up-close look and plenty of photos before the Fan Fair opened to the public.

Matthews Make A Wish 5

Logan's stepfather, Guillaume Dansereau, made sure to point out to him the names of the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, who had nine players who went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, went 60-8-12 during the regular season and 12-2 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I saw [the Cup] when I was really, really young. I didn’t even remember,” Logan said. “So this time I’ll remember.”