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As family grows, so does Zucker's community impact

Wild winger a King Clancy Memorial Trophy finalist for second straight season

by Phil Ervin /

ST. PAUL -- Jason Zucker looked down at his sleeping four-week-old daughter and let the gravity of his experiences the past two years sink in for a moment.

The Wild winger and his wife Carly don't raise tens of thousands of dollars for the attention, he says. They didn't sell 16 different hats -- in connection to his jersey number and "GIVE16" charity efforts -- during the season so they could win an award. He doesn't devote much of his time away from the rink to hospital visits, awareness campaigns and media appearances because of an appetite for the limelight.

They do it for kids. And their families. And as Zucker's continues to grow, the impact of its work for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital continues to take on new meaning.

"That definitely makes it hit home more," said Zucker, who along with his wife welcomed Stella Jean Zucker into the world on March 27.

For the second straight season, Zucker received a nomination for the NHL's King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community. The Zuckers' impact includes raising $1.2 million for the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio, which officially opened earlier this year inside Masonic Children's Hospital, and maintaining an active presence in the Twin Cities hockey community. 

Video: Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio unveiling

The suite includes a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, with a Google Jamboard, NewTek TriCaster, ColorSource console, PTZ and mobile cameras, and allows children and their families to enjoy a Wild game as if they were really there. The space replicates the experience of a Minnesota Wild suite, with a ticketed entrance, food and beverage options, a large projection screen and two NHL goal lights that go off when the Wild scores.

To fund the project, Zucker pledged for $1,600 every goal he scored during the 2017-18 season and encouraged fans to make their own donations in a form of the number 16. On March 25, the suite hosted its inaugural viewing party for 13-year-old Dom Lawson -- who had been in the hospital for nine months -- along with his family and friends.

"I really wish we could've been there to see it, but I had something going on," joked Zucker, who suited up for the Wild against the Nashville Predators that night. "For me, it's something that's really cool to see the reactions of the kids and the fun that they seemed like they were having."

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On Nov. 21, the Zuckers commemorated the project by holding "GIVE16 Suite Night" at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild hosted the Ottawa Senators. The Zuckers hosted 16 different local nonprofits -- including Minnesota Special Hockey, Athletes Committed to Educating Students, DinoMights, Play.Laugh.Love, Children's Minnesota and University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital -- in 16 different suites the day before Thanksgiving to honor their work in the community.

In order to raise continued programming funds and awareness, Zucker also partnered with St. Paul clothing brand UNRL to design a line of 16 different hats that were released for sale during each of the Wild's final 16 games. Each hat featured a unique theme and design, and the initiative raised $16,000 for the suite and broadcast studio.

The words "Shoot More" were featured in several of the hat designs. This was the famous mantra attributed to Tucker Helstrom, who served as the inspiration for Zucker's efforts in the first place. After meeting Helstrom during a team hospital visit, Zucker dedicated much of his life to helping the hospital in any way he could. 

Video: Zuckers host #Give16 Suite Night

When Helstrom died in 2016, the Zuckers reaffirmed that commitment. And more than any award nomination or external recognition, Zucker says the most fulfilling aspect of GIVE16 continues to be honoring his young friend's memory. 

Even as the efforts continue to expand.

"Carly and I just wish he could see what we've done with this for him," Zucker said. "That would be the ultimate thing. It's honestly so much fun for us to do this stuff; we truly enjoy it and enjoy seeing the emotion on kids' faces when see the space.

"That's why we do it."

The efforts go beyond the hospital, too. In August 2018, Zucker skated in a Minnesota Special Hockey showcase game along with players who have developmental disabilities. One of them was his nephew, Caden Hronski, who has Down syndrome. 

Zucker also served as one of the Wild's "Hockey Is For Everyone" ambassadors for 2018-19 and has worked in the past with various groups including Avenues for Homeless Youth, Secondhand Hounds and Coco's Heart animal rescue, Minnesota Police Department first responders and the Go Red for Women campaign.

Zucker, who has "shoot more" tattooed on his wrist along with Helstrom's initials, was quick to point out that Helstrom was nine years old when he passed away due to cancer. His oldest daughter, Sophia, is the same age today.

Tweet from @Jason_Zucker16: We are honored to have a platform to make a difference in our community and we couldn���t do it without the support of the @mnwild, fans and local companies. We hope #GIVE16 continues to inspire people like Tucker inspired all of this.

"To see the things he was going through and knowing the situation he was in with their family ... I think of Sophia," said Zucker, who also has a son, Hendrix, who turned 1 in October. "To think of her at this age and know where she's at in life, that makes it absolutely crazy and very hard to think of it that way."

On a much lighter note, another company-paid trip to Zucker's hometown of Las Vegas doesn't hurt.

The NHL's only Vegas-raised player will travel to the desert for the NHL Awards on Wednesday, June 19 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas at 7 p.m. CT on NBCSN. He'll be joined by fellow King Clancy finalists Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers as well as a host of other NHL personalities and celebrities.

Much of Zucker's extended family was able to join him at last year's event. Reached Tuesday, he hadn't yet made travel arrangements but was hoping to see a lot of them again about two months from now.

"I personally love that it's in Vegas," Zucker said. "I really do think it's fantastic; they do a great job hosting it in Vegas. I'm obviously a little biased on that, but ... I'm excited to be able to go back."


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