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Thank You, Pekka Rinne, From A Nashville Sports Fan

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I’ll always have a soft spot for Pekka Rinne and his time on the Predators, and now that he has announced his retirement, I feel especially grateful to have seen such talent firsthand. Our city has only two professional teams, neither of which have been around very long, but they have made an indelible impact. Just as my father regaled me with tales of old Vandy basketball players, I’ll surely share memories of the goalie with a funny name to my kids as we head downtown for games one day in the future.

For my entire adult life, Pekka has been a model of consistency in a business that demands plenty of turnover. Many great athletes have suited up in the Preds yellow and blue over the last 15 years, but the one guy Nashvillians could always count on, even when they only knew a few players on the team, was Rinne. He was the foundation of the team and its burgeoning, passionate fan base—no matter the level of hockey conversation a Nashvillian may find himself in, one thing was always certain, and that was that we had an elite goaltender. Expansion teams, especially in sports fighting against typical geographical boundaries like hockey in the South, need a few players like Rinne to capture the hearts and minds of the new fans. He was tall, handsome, painfully foreign, but fully dedicated; an athlete who embraced his new home and was enthusiastically beloved as a result. He goes to my family’s chiropractor for adjustments, and he lives on my parents’ quaint street. In a region of the country that values family and humility above all else, Pekka stands out only for his incredible gifts on the ice; never for any problems, nor ego. He is every bit the Nashvillian that I am or that any of the friends I grew up with are, and I’m proud to be a Preds fan because of him.

Photo H/T NHL

Rinne, 38, spent his entire 683-game career in Nashville, amassing a final record of 369-213-75, which is good for 19th all-time in NHL victories. He dominates all of Nashville’s short record book, including best goal-against average (2.43), shutouts (60), and saves (17,627). He was recognized as the NHL’s top goaltender in 2018, was a finalist a total of four times, and made four NHL All-Star teams. Rinne’s career goals-against average of 2.43 is tied for the fourth-best mark among goaltenders with at least 350 wins in NHL history, trailing only Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur and Jacques Plante; some fine company indeed.

“It is impossible to properly express just how much Pekka means to the Predators organization and our entire community,” Predators President and CEO Sean Henry said. “His incredible career and milestones achieved are eclipsed only by his generous spirit and contagious passion for others. Pekka defines our franchise and truly embodies the spirit of SMASHVILLE; both are better because of him.”

The first week I lived in LA, far from home and taking a big swing in life, the Predators were digging through the 2017 playoffs en route to the team’s first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. I knew Nashville was electric, and I totally threw myself into following that team. Finding bars and restaurants to watch their games in made the transition easier and much more fun. No matter where I went or how much hockey the people whom I spoke to watched, they had almost all heard of Pekka Rinne. And boy, was he instrumental in Nashville’s run to that 2017 Cup Final: topping his own franchise records for wins (14), games played (22), shutouts (2) and goals-against average (1.96) in a single postseason. In addition to winning the first two Cup Final games in team history, he began the 2017 postseason by helping the Preds sweep Chicago in the first round, becoming the fourth goaltender in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to win all four games of a playoff series while recording a goals-against average of 0.70 or less.

The team fell just short in 2017, but that run forever engraved their names on the hearts of Nashville sports fans. All of a sudden, a state dominated by SEC football and basketball knew all about icing, shift splits, and power plays. Hockey fever had swept over the city and changed the interests of once-apathetic fans into puck diehards. In my opinion, Pekka was the heartbeat of the movement.

I imagine I’ve been lucky enough to see Pekka play in person around 50 times, and the feeling was always the same: with him in the net, you always felt the Preds had a chance to win. I’ve sat on the glass chirping opposing teams, and I’ve sat in the nosebleeds shoving filthy Blackhawks fans. I’ve snuck in countless flasks of booze and danced to Tim McGraw hundreds of times. The experience of growing up with a team as they grow up as well has always been incredibly rewarding. The pain of disappointment, the elation of endurance paying off, and the memories that are formed whilst caring about a team of strangers is what makes sports so great. Pekka, though, has been around so long that he no longer feels like a stranger, but rather a member of the family.

So thank you, Pekka Rinne, for growing up with me and helping usher the city of Nashville into a new era of prominence, growth, and maturation. Your time on the ice may be over, but stories of your dominance will live on in the hearts of a few for years to come.

Written by TK Sanders

TK is a southerner who has lived on both coasts and definitely prefers sunshine to snow. A former entertainment executive in Los Angeles, he was run out of Hollywood for misgendering a director's dog, and is now forced to blog for a living. Breaking 80 will always be his number one goal in life.

Follow him on Twitter @outkicktommy.

3 Comments

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  1. “All of a sudden, a state dominated by SEC football and basketball knew all about icing, shift splits, and power plays. Hockey fever had swept over the city and changed the interests of once-apathetic fans into puck diehards.”

    Agreed.. 4 yrs ago.

    Today…. this team is hated along with the Titans due to their embrace of racist BLM.

    No one here wears their pro sports gear.

    If you do… you signal your hatred of America.

    Congrats though to Rinne… great time to bail.

  2. Well said. Pekka is a complete legend. Unfortunately, what Jim said is also true. I wouldn’t say “hated” but the love affair is certainly on the back burner due to the politicization of the league. Shame. But still, cheers Pekka on a helluva career.

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