Last season was a disappointment for Wild winger Jason Zucker.
His 21 goals were shy of the 30 he expected to bury and well short of the 33 he scored in 2017-18 when he set a career high.
But regardless of what was happening on the ice, Zucker always enjoyed visiting the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“You realize how great we have it,” he said.
That sense of fulfillment is what Zucker takes away from the connection he’s fostered with the Minneapolis hospital, but it’s what Zucker has done for others that made him a finalist for the King Clancy Award, which recognizes the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.
“It’s a huge honor for us,” Zucker said, “and we’re really excited about it.”
Zucker was a runner-up a year ago after he and his wife, Carly, started a fundraiser to create the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio at the hospital.
The campaign, #Give16, began after Zucker developed a special bond with Tucker Helstrom, whom Zucker met at the hospital while Helstrom was battling brain cancer. Helstrom passed away in 2016.
After a $160,000 donation by the Zuckers, the effort has raised more than $1.2 million and the studio opened March 25. It has a theater to watch Wild games and state-of-the-art broadcast equipment.
Earlier in the season, the Zuckers partnered with the Wild and local companies to fill 16 suites at a game with nonprofits, charitable organizations and community groups. Zucker also worked with St. Paul clothing brand UNRL to codesign custom hats for each of the last 16 games, an initiative that led to a $16,000 donation to the suite.
This summer, the focus for the studio will be its programming efforts. A bingo night is in the works, and media professionals have volunteered to discuss their careers.
“I really wish that [Tucker] could see everything we’re doing to honor him,” said Zucker, 27. “This is all because of him.”
Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist are the other finalists. The 2018 King Clancy Award went to the retiring Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, of the Canucks.
A committee of NHL executives led by Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will select the winner, applying a criteria that includes impact on the community, commitment to a particular cause and creativity.
Zucker and Carly, a KFAN radio personality, will be at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 19 when the King Clancy Award is handed out. The recipient will receive a $40,000 donation from the NHL Foundation to benefit a charity. Each of the runners-up will have $5,000 go to his charity of choice.
“Just being able to bring some more awareness to #Give16 would be phenomenal,” Zucker said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re excited to be there.”