HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With a throng of reporters around his locker stall Tuesday, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo was a more than willing participant for the topic of conversation that unfolded.
Pietrangelo was sporting a new, clean-shaved head, something he admitted he's never done before. And he did it for a special girl close to his heart.
Pietrangelo and his girlfriend Jayne's 5-year-old niece Ellie (the daughter of Jayne's sister) was diagnosed in August with Wilms' tumor, a form of cancer that develops in the kidneys of children.
Ellie is recovering well two months after surgery. She has a website set up to help off-set expenses and it's already raised a little less than $19,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. But Ellie was given the honor of shaving Uncle Alex's head Monday in support of Ellie's cause.
"Everyone around me was laughing," Pietrangelo said. "I didn't know what it looked like at first. She did a pretty junky job at first ... I won't lie. It's pretty funny. I had bunches of hair. I had a rat tail and everything going on. The sister-in-law cleaned it up a bit. She didn't do this herself at 5 years old. We kept the guard on when she had the razor in her hand. I was scared about the eyebrows. That's what I was scared about. ... It was getting close.
"I never shaved my head. I think my mother was terrified when I sent her a picture. ... I kept the beard, so that makes it for an easier transition."
The NHL and NHL Players' Association's annual Hockey Fights Cancer initiative began Oct. 20 and runs through Nov. 17. Each NHL team will host a Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night; the Blues will host theirs Nov. 1 against the Colorado Avalanche.
With Ellie going through chemotherapy treatments, a side effect of which was Ellie losing her hair, Uncle Alex thought it was fitting he join in to bring his niece any joy he could.
"We were talking about it for a while," Pietrangelo said. "We were waiting for [Ellie] to lose her hair. It got to that point and I asked her if she wanted to do it [Monday]. To see her laugh and smile when she was doing it, even though she dug the razor in a couple of times, it was good. A bunch of the guys in the family did it. I know the girls cut it short before [Ellie] started losing her hair, so it seems like we had a lot of support.
"It's not about me; it's about her. I don't want any attention on this. I just did it to support her and make her feel good."
Pietrangelo said Ellie is progressing well and that things are going according to plan, which is the best news possible.
"Everything's great. Everything's progressing the way it should be," Pietrangelo said. "She's in good spirits. She's young; she's 5. She's a bundle of joy. She's a handful.
"I know she's only 5 but she's always in good spirits when I'm there. She's a bundle of life."
Blues captain David Backes helped the cause to brighten Ellie's spirits by inviting her to his house to help bottle-feed foster kittens.
"He's not a great-looking bald guy, I'll tell you that," Backes joked about Pietrangelo before talking about Ellie. "Support for his niece and what she's going through at 5 years old, it's tough to witness. But keeping her in good spirits. ... Just a joyous spirit that's always smiling. For a 5-year-old that's done nothing wrong, to have that battle on her hands, you feel for her and try to make it as comfortable as can be and keep her in your thoughts and prayers."
Pietrangelo's teammates were in solidarity when he walked in the locker room for the first time sans hair.
"I've been part of it before ... the St. Baldrick's (Foundation)," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "We did it in Buffalo. I didn't shave my head, but we had a guy named Kirby show up and we shaved his head all the time.
"It definitely raises awareness. Of course we're behind all this."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows he has more than just a budding star on his hands in Pietrangelo. He has a player that's maturing on and off the ice.
"I'm really impressed," Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "I told him the story about [country music singer] Kellie Pickler in Nashville. She did the same thing for her best friend [Summer Miller in 2012]. I think it's really impressive. It shows the obvious bond and the care. … I think there was a lot of support for Kellie and her foundation because of it and I'm hoping the same thing works for Alex."
While Ellie recovers and Uncle Alex goes through the challenges of a tough NHL schedule, there's always time to spend with his niece, soaking up the moments and playing out scenes from Ellie's favorite movie, "Frozen."
"They had this toy last year and it was motion-sensored," Pietrangelo said. "And every time you walked by it started to sing. ... For three days straight I had that song stuck in my head. ... You guys know the 'Frozen' soundtrack, too.
"She comes [to hockey games] when she can. She's a 5-year-old girl. She doesn't play hockey or anything. I don't even know if she understands much about the game, but she comes and cheers and she knows when I'm on TV. I'm her biggest supporter more than anything."