- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins were finishing practice Wednesday afternoon when it appeared goaltender Tuukka Rask was leaving the ice early.
He skated over to the gate near the team’s locker room at Ristuccia Arena, and welcomed a special guest.
Maddie Santosuosso, 9, of Topsfield, Mass., practiced with the Bruins as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She was sporting goalie equipment and a No. 40 Bruins sweater with her last name on the back.
At the conclusion of practice, Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t even finished talking with his players when the focus turned to Maddie as she stepped onto the ice. Rask helped her to center ice and all the Bruins players tapped their sticks to welcome her to their circle.
“It goes to show you those little things that we do are really important to those people, and it’s important to us," said Julien. "The guys enjoy it. They could’ve gone off the ice, they could’ve done whatever they wanted because practice was over, but they all stayed to spend time with her.”
Maddie took her position in the crease with Rask by her side as the Bruins players formed a semicircle and took turns shooting on her.
"It was great for her, you could see that she was having fun,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. “Obviously, it could be intimidating with us shooting on her, but it looked like she had a lot of fun. The main thing was she had a blast and we had fun watching her get between the pipes. The most enjoyment for all of us was watching her have fun.”
Rask first met Maddie a few weeks ago when he took her shopping for goalie equipment.
“I picked out the same kind I wear. Too bad they didn’t have a mask, but she has the Canadiens colors, but we’ll let that slide,” Rask said with a smile.
Rask added, “It means a lot. You always try to be a role model for the kids and to do something like this is great.”
A family member said Maddie has been looking forward to this moment for months. With all the treatment and chemotherapy she has been going through, practicing with Rask and his teammates was a bright spot.
Maddie plays youth hockey and was only three games into this season when she was diagnosed with cancer last October. She missed the majority of her season but was able to return to practice a few weeks ago.
From a health standpoint, Maddie completed radiation treatment a couple of weeks ago and she still has two chemo treatments remaining. The medication is working and the tumors are shrinking.
After practice, Maddie and Rask talked about goaltending, and the Bruins’ netminder had a few pointers for her.
“She’s not scared of the puck, which is a great start,” Rask said. “I just told her to stand tall and catch as many pucks as she can and she was loving it.
“It was great,” added Rask. “It’s always fun to brighten up a kid’s day, so today it was special for us to do this, then do the Cuts for a Cause later, too.”
Bruins forward Shawn Thornton held his annual “Cuts for a Cause” event to benefit the Shawn Thornton Foundation, Boston Bruins Foundation and Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. Bruins players will have their heads shaved to raise money for the charities.