Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the NHL's most skilled and unstoppable players. Here he is making four Toronto Maple Leafs look silly two weeks ago.
But while the mighty Russian isn't much fun to play against, he's gained a reputation as one of the league's kindest, most humble stars. His teammates love him, but Tarasenko also goes above and beyond to connect with fans. And no one knows that better than a young St. Louis girl named Arianna Dougan. Since meeting in 2015, she and Tarasenko have become unlikely friends. And when Arianna had her 11th birthday on Monday, her friend came through with an incredible gift: a five-day road trip with the entire team!
Two inspirational people
With his gift for goal scoring and a physique that even mystifies other pro athletes (his nickname is "Tank"), it's safe to call Tarasenko inspirational. But we think that Arianna could give him a run for his money.
She was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma at age three. This is a childhood cancer that affects the nerve cells. It is very aggressive and to fight it, Arianna has already undergone dozens of rounds of chemotherapy (a powerful treatment to fight cancer that uses radiation). Chemotherapy leaves even a full grown adult weak and ill. To stay smiling and positive at such a young age shows you how strong a person Arianna is.
This pair became friends at a Hockey Fights Cancer event in 2015 and stayed in touch. Here they are hanging out last November.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) November 6, 2016
Let's hit the road!
And now the duo are taking their friendship on the road. Arianna will travel with the Blues to games in Phoenix and Colorado. She'll fly with the team, stay in the same hotels as them, and, of course, get to watch her favourite player in action. Here she is receiving her gift from the Blues' coach, Mike Yeo, and Tarasenko himself. The whole team even sings her "Happy Birthday"!
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) February 20, 2017
Arianna's mother, Lorie Zucker, says that her treatment is close to getting her cancer-free. And this gift is truly the icing on the cake.
"I was crying in the background," Zucker said in an interview on the Blues website. "She's so over the moon she doesn't realize what she's got yet. It won't hit home until she gets in the car. This has been the best birthday ever."
And we couldn't think of a more deserving girl. Have a great time, Arianna!