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Tucker's presence close by as Zucker wins King Clancy

Friendship forged three years ago is the genesis of $1.2 million in giving to Masonic Children's Hospital

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

LAS VEGAS -- Tucker Helstrom is never far from Jason Zucker's mind. In two weeks, it will have been three years since Helstrom passed away following an eight-month battle against osteosarcoma. 

But it's weeks like this one -- and nights like Wednesday -- with Zucker back in his hometown and the bright spotlight on the charitable work he and his wife, Carly, began in the weeks and months after Helstrom's passing, where Zucker said Tucker's spirit roams especially close. 

In the wake of unimaginable sorrow has borne tremendous hope in the form of the #GIVE16 campaign, the Zucker Family Broadcast Studio and the more than $1.2 million raised for Masonic Children's Hospital.

A total that got $40,000 bigger on Wednesday night when Zucker was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.

Instagram from @jason_zucker16: This past season my family and I were fortunate to meet and build a friendship with Tucker Helstrom and his family while Tucker was battling cancer at U of M Masonic Children's Hospital. He fought hard, but his battle ended the morning of July 2nd. Tucker was 9 - strong, funny and full of hockey advice. We will miss him greatly. Carly and I will be hosting a fundraiser @7mpls Thursday, July 21st (6:30-9pm). Please join us in supporting his family and U of M Masonic Children's Hospital - visit wild.com for details #teamtucker

Along with the trophy, Zucker took home a $40,000 donation from the National Hockey League Foundation that he's already earmarked for Masonic. 

"He's definitely the main reason behind all this and he definitely had a say in this, I'll say that," Zucker said.

Jason and Carly's Wednesday began with a text message from back home from Tucker's mom, Dana, with whom the couple has forged a life-long friendship. 

The message was simple, but it was heartfelt and it was emotional.

"It was a thank you for always being a supporter of Tucker and his legacy," Zucker said. "We always talk about it, this is all about Tucker's legacy and making that live on and how great of a kid he was. 

"We were so lucky to be a part of his life and even though it was a short time, he made a huge impact on us. We're gonna share this with him."

What Zucker and Helstrom's relationship lacked in longevity was more than made up for in honesty. It was Tucker who told Jason, bluntly, to "backcheck harder" and to "shoot more," the latter of which became a tattoo on Zucker's wrist in the weeks following Tucker's passing. 

That bit of advice also adorned a #GIVE16 hat, one of 16 unique designs he wore on game days over the final weeks of the season in an effort to raise money for the cause. 

Instagram from @jason_zucker16: Today's hat is LIVE! Take a look at my Instagram story to see the detail on this one 👏 #ShootMore #Give16UNRL

If Helstrom were still alive, Zucker said he'd have another honest message for him.

"Keep going, the work's not done yet," Zucker paraphrased. 

"The award is great, it shows the work the community did to raise all that money and create the space at the hospital. But the work's not done, we still have money we're going to raise. We're still going to create programming for the kids to have fun while they are there and be kids and enjoy their life as much as they can when they are in the hospital."

While the award could symbolize the mountain top of community service for Jason and Carly, Zucker was quick to point out that it's just the beginning. 

"We just had our producer hired a few weeks ago, where he's full time now, five days a week, from 8 to 5, so it's fully up and running," Zucker said. "It's just starting and just ramping up now."

In winning the award, Zucker becomes the third player in Wild history to win a voted-on League-wide honor, joining goaltenders Josh Harding (2013) and Devan Dubnyk (2015), who each won the Masterton Memorial Trophy.

Born in California, raised here in Las Vegas and his hockey career incubated in both Michigan and Colorado, Zucker said he could have never dreamed the way he's taken to Minnesota, and the way Minnesota has taken to him.

The state has become his adopted and his permanent home.

"The Minnesota community, just in general ... they pull you in and they hold you tight and make sure that you feel a part of the community in every way," Zucker said. "That's how Carly and I have felt from day one with this campaign and with #GIVE16 in general."


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