Shoot More, Give More

Pittsburgh Penguins Forward Jason Zucker Uses His NHL Platform To Impact Other People’s Lives
By: 
Jessi Pierce

Fate can create a plethora of possibilities. For Jason and Carly Zucker, fate intervened in their lives in unimaginable ways, helping so many others along the way.

In December of 2015, Jason, then a forward with the Minnesota Wild, hit the sixth floor at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital during a team visit. There, he met Tucker Helstrom, an 8-year-old hockey player battling osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Through mutual friends, their paths crossed again. And again. And again.

"There are people that you meet and you just click," said Carly, a radio personality on Minneapolis sports station, KFAN. "That's what Tucker and his family were like for us."

Helstrom eventually lost his fight on July 2, 2016, at the age of 9. But the Zuckers were just beginning theirs.

"I think what Tucker did for us was give us a direction," said Jason, who had Tucker's initials and words of advice to 'shoot more' tattooed on his wrist. "Carly and I were always giving where we could. When he passed away, that gave us something where we said, 'OK we want to build his legacy.' For us it worked out perfect to go to the hospital. We saw how the hospital worked and it seemed like the perfect fit."

The Zuckers began the legacy remembrance in 2016 with Team Tucker's Locker, a replica Wild locker room stall located in former Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph's End Zone at Masonic, a space that serves as an escape for kids at the hospital, complete with games and movies.

The following year Jason and Carly pledged $160,000 to the hospital and by 2018 opened their own special wing as an escape for families called The Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio. The facility includes a state-of-the-art broadcast studio and fully outfitted theater, lined with a number of NHL and local youth used hockey sticks. The theater plays live Minnesota Wild games, complete with an in-game experience including a ticketed entrance and concession-like food and beverage.

"It's not only for the patients, but for the siblings of the patients that can go down there and make a radio show or TV show or play interactive games," Jason explained. "These families have had their worlds turned upside down, so to give back to them in any way is so special to us."

From there, the Zuckers continued to grow their charitable causes. In 2019, backed by Tucker's story and their work at Masonic, the Zuckers established #Give16, raising more than $1 million in less than one year courtesy of community and fan donations of $16 (or more), capped off with Jason's pledge of $1,600 for each goal he scored that season; he tallied a career-high 33 and his contribution totaled $52,800.

"I don't think we realized how dedicated the Wild fanbase was to Tucker's story and Tucker's family and to Masonic Children's Hospital," Carly said. "We were so pleasantly surprised how it all came together. It still feels surreal. It makes you smile to look back and realize what a team effort it was even when we just started out."

For all of his charitable and humanitarian efforts, Jason was awarded the NHL's 2019 King Clancy Memorial Trophy.

"I think the nice part about [winning the King Clancy] for us, was the recognition is great for Tucker's legacy," said Jason, who earned a $40,000 donation to The Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio from the NHL Foundation.

"It has nothing to do with me or Carly, but it's Tucker and the children's hospital that deserve the recognition. They deserve the accolades for all that they do, the time they put in for these families and children. For us to have them be recognized and have their name in the newspapers and be recognized by the NHL is incredible."

After five years of creating a charitable footprint in Minneapolis, along with becoming a Wild fan favorite, the Zuckers were thrown a curveball when Jason was traded to Pittsburgh.

With the COVID-19 pandemic striking less than a month later and limiting accessibility in his new NHL city, he's at times struggled to perfect his charitable efforts in the Pittsburgh community-though plans are in the works for the local hospital and in other areas.

Carly says that while the Zuckers roots are heavily planted in Minnesota, the goal of their efforts at the Masonic Children's hospital are meant to appeal to everyone.

"I think one of the most important things that we're trying to spread to the fanbase in Pittsburgh and nationally is that the University of Minnesota Masonic serves families worldwide," she said. "Even though it's based in Minnesota, the work that they do is for a fraction of those people in Minnesota. There are people from Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania and from all over. The research they do with childhood cancer is something that reaches all of us no matter where you live.

"Yes, we have such a special place in our heart for Minnesota but we want people to know that what they do benefits people far outside Minnesota."

And the more people they can reach and help, the happier Jason and Carly are.

"When you're given a lot and given a platform and the ability to impact somebody's life, you take it," Jason said. "You try and give back to the community. I think that's so important."


Jessi Pierce is a freelance writer and podcast host covering the NHL in St. Paul, Minn.

 

Issue: 
2021-08

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