Happy Birthday, Martin Erat

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 12: Martin Erat #10 of the Nashville Predators skates against Michael Cammalleri #13 of the Montreal Canadiens at the Bridgestone Arena on November 12, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Once known to the #Preds Nation Twitterati as "Spinderella," or the guy who has prompted FOX Sports color commentator Terry Crisp to shout "Head on a swivel!" on air more than any other player, today OtF sends big, bad birthday greetings to Preds winger Martin Erat. Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 7th round in 1999 (191st overall), the Czech Republic native, who turns 31 years old today, has evolved over time to become a stalwart contributor in the Preds' score-by-committee approach, using his deft speed and soft hands to rack up impressive offensive numbers throughout his pro career. Follow after the jump for a "Marty Party" on memory lane.

It's important to bring up Erat's perennial linemate David Legwand (who celebrated a birthday himself just 12 days ago) because, according to the folks at Hockey-Reference.com, Erat's career numbers are second only to Legwand's franchise records in several categories, including:

  • Games Played (687 to Legwand's 846)
  • Goals (159 to Legwand's 188), including Even Strength Goals (116 to Legwand's 149) and Game Winning Goals (25 to Legwand's 37)
  • Assists (301 to Legwand's 313)
  • Points (460 to Legwand's 501)

Following Erat's professional debut on the "Vowel Line," on which Denis Arkhipov centered him and Vladimir Orszagh, the Legwand-Erat duo has been as consistent and complementary as chocolate and peanut butter, even if their third linemate hasn't been the same guy. (Personal note: I was always a fan of the "Czech Line" of Erat, Radek Bonk, and Jan Hlavac, used in late-period situations to leverage speed and possession to wear down other teams; Erat was the only member of this line to help the Czech Republic en route to a Bronze Medal finish in the 2006 Winter Olympics.) Erat is also presently the Preds' most potent power play threat, seeing power play time for 207 goals with the man advantage in his NHL career (former Preds captain Kimmo Timonen holds the franchise record with 328; David Legwand unsurprisingly trails closely behind with 200). Both Legwand and Erat have spent their entire careers with Nashville.

With the passage of time, the normally stoic Erat has clearly become more confident in his role as a top six forward, as evidenced by this awesome footage of his game winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and his ensuing celebration (from December 23, 2011 at Bridgestone Arena; footage courtesy of the NHL's "NHLVideo" YouTube channel):

The uncharacteristically jubilant Erat beat Curtis Sanford with 8.4 seconds remaining in the third period to prevent the extra frame.

Erat is also one of the stronger players on the Nashville roster, as evidenced by this monster hit on Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (and ensuing 2 minute boarding minor; from November 29, 2011 at the Scotiabank Saddledome; footage courtesy of the NHL's "NHLArchive" YouTube channel):

On a personal note, I met Martin Erat on an October night in 2002 at the Greenhouse Bar on Bandywood Drive in Green Hills. He, Andreas Johansson, and Vladmir Orszagh stopped in one night while I was enjoying a cocktail, and invited me from across the bar to have a drink with them. Why me? Well, I had bleached my hair blond in preparation for Halloween -- I was slated to work a cash bar at the Greenhouse's Halloween party that year, and I decided to go as recording artist Eminem. Apparently Marty, Vlad, and AJ are big fans of the controversial Detroit rapper, and all thought I bore a cleverly striking resemblance to Mr. Mathers. Suffice it to say that three of the four of us remember most of the encounter, and one of us scarcely remembers the ride home. (Pro tip: don't drink with professional athletes unless you're also one.)

What's your favorite Martin Erat highlight and/or personal anecdote? Drop a comment below and join us in wishing #10 a Happy 31st!

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