Mark Messier surprises Anna Dunn with tickets to game 3

EDMONTON -- Anna Dunn and Mark Messier arrived separately to The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in downtown Edmonton on Thursday five hours before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final not knowing what to expect and having never met each other.

All Dunn knew is that out of the blue she received a call from Messier on Wednesday night asking if she would have lunch with him, an opportunity arranged through a mutual friend, former Edmonton Oilers equipment manager Barrie Stafford.

The 25-year-old was in disbelief and immediately went to the mall to buy an Oilers blue-and-orange No. 11 Messier jersey.

All the Hockey Hall of Famer knew of Dunn is what he heard from Stafford: that she's from West Edmonton, about 15 minutes from downtown; she is a former college soccer player; and that she is a cancer survivor who had her right leg amputated.

"For me, when I heard Anna's story, it was inspiring," Messier told "What a courageous, accomplished, beautiful young woman."

They left more than an hour after meeting each other for the first time talking about being friends for life, exchanging phone numbers, with Messier urging Dunn to stay in touch with him, to tell him about her journey and all of her successes.

Dunn also left with two tickets to Game 3 between the Oilers and the Florida Panthers (8 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, SN, ESPN+, ABC), a gift from Messier and his autograph with personalized messages, both on her new jersey and her copy of his book.

"It's so hard to put into words," Dunn told after the lunch was over. "I think Mark Messier calling me an inspiration, it makes me want to tear up because I see him as an inspiration. It's just really difficult to put into words, but just an unbelievable experience. I wasn't expecting that and he didn't need to do that. The kindness of him, I think it's just so special. Knowing that I have a friend for life in him, it makes my journey back to my new normal a little bit easier."

Dunn walked into the hotel next to her father, John, and with the help of a cane in her left hand to support her new one-month-old prosthetic right leg, a result of cancer discovered in her big toe a year ago that required months of chemotherapy and the amputation below the knee.

Messier greeted them both. He was wearing a microphone and being filmed by a camera crew from NHL Studios to document the experience, the idea being that sharing Dunn's story could inspire others who face a similar battle.

They got to talking. Stafford and John Dunn joined them for lunch.

Anna talked about her life as a soccer player in college and how her dreams of doing more in the sport were dashed by her diagnosis. They talked about new sports she is going to take up, like cycling, rowing and running. Messier asked her about being a Paralympian.

She explained her journey, from pain in her foot to diagnosis to depression to amputation to learning how to walk with the prostethic leg.

There was more about their lives, including Anna as a fifth-grade teacher, having to give that up during her treatment and recovery, stories from Messier's playing career, leadership qualities they share and building cultures in team sports.

Messier waited until toward the end of lunch to hand Anna the tickets to Game 3 at Rogers Place.

Her jaw literally dropped when Messier handed her the envelope with two paper tickets in it.

"What?" she said breathlessly. "Oh my gosh. I can't believe this. Thank you. Oh my gosh."

She said she was going to bring her older sister, Kate, 27. Anna told Messier during lunch that Kate has been by her side throughout her diagnosis, treatment, amputation and getting back to a new semblance of normalcy in her life.

Anna told Messier her favorite player is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Messier said he would try to arrange a meeting for her with the Oilers forward.

"Honestly, during the times when I was in chemo I couldn't see the light," Anna said. "After getting my amputation I just kind of felt my life was over. Now, with this, getting the tickets and meeting Mark Messier, it's starting to seem that, yeah, there are good things that will come out of this."

Anna has been an Oilers fan since she was born. John worked for the team as a sports psychologist from 2007-09. John even teared up after Messier gave Anna the tickets, telling his daughter, "We said something good is going to come of this. And this is good."

That's when Stafford jumped in and said, "This is the start of a lifelong friendship right here. He's one of the best you'll ever meet."

Anna was almost in tears, too.

"Just incredible meeting her and her father is amazing," Messier said. "What an incredible story. We're going to stay in touch for sure as she goes through her journey. There's lots to look forward to."

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