From Ice to Ice Cream
“I’d be on the ice all the time!” P.K. Subban responded after being asked if he’d like the ice at Bridgestone Arena to be replaced with the Swedish Fish flavored Italian Ice at Rita’s Italian Ice in Nolensville, Tennessee on Monday afternoon. He and Viktor Arvidsson had just finished a frantic one hour shift* of dishing out frozen treats, signing autographs, posing for pictures and sharing laughs with the fans that came through their line. While their shift lasted quite a bit longer than their regular shifts on the ice, both hockey players seemed like they could have gone on scooping and serving for a few hours more.
Subban absolutely fed off of the fans’ energy, and the love and attention he received from each customer was magnified when he reflected it back onto them. Arvidsson was more than happy to serve his customers with frozen treats, smiles for the camera, and autographs. However, around PK Subban, all other personalities seem to fade into the background. Arvidsson seemed content with this arrangement and allowed Subban to do a lot of the talking for him.
When asked about appearing at events like this, Subban commented that he enjoyed them because, “It’s just cool to be able to give back to a community that you’re not even that used to yet. I’ve only been in Nashville for a year, but I live seven minutes down the road from here. So it’s great to meet people that live in the area as well.” Based on the excitement from the customers at Rita’s that day, it would appear that the feeling goes both ways.
*Twenty percent of Rita’s sales for the day, as well as any tips that PK and Viktor earned during their shift were donated to the **Nashville Predators Foundation.
Taking Hockey to the Streets
“You coming to the game Thursday?” asked Nick Bonino.
“Yeah,” replied the kid in the blue shirt.
“Are you gonna be able to suit up and play?”
“Webby, I got a new winger now!” Bonino shouted to Yannick Weber across the court.
Bonino was talking to kid with a nasty slap shot. It looked like a good, hard shot from my perch behind the pop up goal, but it definitely felt harder when it slammed into my stomach. Bonino, along with Yannick Weber, hopped out of the back of the Predators Kids Club van into the middle of a street hockey game at the end of a street in a close-knit community in Nolensville, Tennessee on Wednesday afternoon.
The group of young players stood there with their mouths wide open as they processed this new reality—there were real, live, professional hockey players here to play with them. They quickly went about splitting up teams and immediately got back into some intense street hockey. The action went on for a solid 40 minutes. The pros kept it playful and fun while the kids maintained an intense battle in light of the giants in their midst. Both sides scored goals and when the pint-sized goalie for Bonino’s team traded his pads for snack, Bonino himself strapped on the undersized gear and gave it his best between the pop-up pipes.
Weber’s team got aggressive with the new keeper, causing Bonino to playfully shout, “Guys, you’re in my crease! That’s a penalty!” Finally, Bonino called for “next goal wins” and they battled for another few minutes before Weber’s team lead an onslaught on the net that was defended valiantly by a swarm of young players. However, Bonino had removed the goalie gear to sneak up on Weber’s net to feed a nearly iced ball to one of his teammates. As a result of the uncalled offsides, he bagged an assist as the little guy scored the game winning goal. The guys finished the afternoon off with autographs and pictures before hopping back in the van and leaving the neighborhood starstruck and a little bit more hockey crazy than they found it.
When asked about taking part in events like this, Yannick Weber responded, “It’s always nice to put a smile on a kid’s face. Hockey’s in our blood and I think street hockey is something Nick and I did growing up, but we never had pro hockey players surprise us. It was awesome because you could just see how even outside of Nashville, there’s so much pride in the Preds.” Nick Bonino responded, “Whenever we can reach out, play hockey, and make kids happy, I think that’s the ultimate goal as a professional athlete. It brings you back to playing street hockey in your driveway.”
This led to a question about the inherent drive to compete and how they managed to keep their desire to win in check alongside playing against such small competition. Weber commented, “You always want to win, but you tone it down a bit when you play with kids.” However, Bonino, whose team was victorious, responded, “It was the perfect medium. I played goalie for a bit, I didn’t really run too much, and I didn’t get slashed, which was a good thing. And, we ended up winning.”
I asked, “So, does that mean you’re a better street hockey player than Yannick?”
“Based on the score, yes,” Bonino answered confidently.
I felt obligated to ask the burning question that was on everyone in the neighborhood’s mind, “Who has the harder slapshot, P.K. Subban, or that kid in the blue shirt?”
Bonino laughed as he answered, “I know firsthand, P.K. Subban shattered my tibia, so I’m gonna say P.K. Subban, but that kid in the blue is coming.”
Victory, defeat, and shattered bones aside, Weber summed up the experience best, “Hopefully, they’ll go to bed and dream about a pass they made or a goal they scored. I hope they’ll remember this afternoon for a long time.”
Bowling the Kids Over
The students and staff from Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home had already experienced an exciting Wednesday morning with a behind the scenes tour of Bridgestone Arena and front row seats for the Predators practice session. However, nothing could prepare them for the excitement that awaited them at the bowling lanes in the back room of Nashville’s Pinewood Social. Soon after they arrived, in walked Nashville Predators Captain Roman Josi and his fellow Swiss phenom, Kevin Fiala. The guys were there to spend some time bowling and just hanging out with the kids.
The Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home provides residential care for children that are, for any variety of reasons, unable to stay with their families. Fortunately, Josi and Fiala had a lot of love to share. It seemed like bowling had taken a backseat to sitting on the couches and talking. The retro-style bowling lanes beckoned, but mostly, everyone wanted to talk. Lucky for the kids, Josi and Fiala are excellent listeners. The older girls swooned over the youthful Fiala, who happily posed for every picture, while everyone else gathered around Josi. It became evident early on that one of the little girls had taken a shine to Roman Josi and would not leave his side as she soaked in all of the attention he gave her. Whether she was sitting by him on the couch, playfully poking his knee through the hole in his jeans, being held in his arms during group pictures, or being tossed into the air, only to be caught safely by the defenseman, she was attached to him. One of the staff members from the TBCH told him, “she just LOVES you!” Josi replied, “the feeling is mutual”.
As the time to say good-bye drew near, all eyes were on Josi’s new friend as she continued coming back for “just one more hug”. After she received her wish, both players said their final good-byes before exiting the building. It was apparent to everyone in the room what an amazing impact the event had on the children as they would be able to leave the building with incredible memories and wonderful stories to tell their friends.
**The Nashville Predators Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) charity organization devoted to funneling the excitement of professional sports towards the needs of this community. You can learn more at Nashville Predators Foundation