Anything hockey related is precious these days.
Even though there isn’t actual hockey to watch these days, the folks at OTF are clinging longingly to a few precious hockey items we hold close to our hearts. Figuring our readers may be at home staring lovingly at their favorite personal hockey memorabilia as well, we thought we would share some of our personal treasures.
When I was six, the Predators played their inaugural season. My father grew up playing outdoors in Milwaukee just like his father. It was important to him to foster my love of the game. We made it to five games that season: a 1-5 drubbing by the Blues, a 2-0 win versus the Coyotes, the ridiculous Gretzky game that the Preds lost 7-4, a 3-0 shutout by Dallas, and then my mom took me to the season finale against the Devils.
A month after the season ended, my father got a new job, all the way back home in Milwaukee. I was crushed that I couldn’t see the Preds anymore. We went to the team store just before we moved and, in addition to getting a foam fang finger my siblings destroyed in days (I bear the burden as the oldest of four), my parents bought me a Predators flag. From first grade through law school, that flag always hung above my bed.
Once I left Milwaukee for the College of Wooster in Ohio, I was connected to the video coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dan Singleton. If you’ve never heard of Coach Singleton, he’s brilliant and was a trailblazer in video review. He’s also remained with the Blue Jackets despite the rotating door of head coaches they’ve had over the years, a testament to his ability. Over the years, he’s invited me down to meet some players in exchange for me passing to him more in our adult league tournaments—a fair exchange.
The first time I got to meet some of the players I was a freshman in college, and it was for a Predators-Blue Jackets game. I was told to bring anything I wanted signed and a sharpie, so I grabbed my now-21-year-old flag and headed below the bleachers. Over the years, I’ve kept bringing that flag and collecting various signatures on it, turning it into some sort of almanac of Predators from years past.
The nicest Predator I met over the years? Francis Bouillon. He hung out with us for like ten minutes just shooting the breeze, smiling the whole time, and kept calling over other guys to sign the flag. A real class act and a great guy.
Pittsburgh Penguins puck signed by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr
For context, my entire family is full of Penguins fans. I was born in Pittsburgh and was indoctrinated early. My first ever Preds game was against Pittsburgh, in Nashville, and I came sporting a beautiful RoboPens jersey (don’t worry, I quickly took it off and formally became a Preds fan that night).
Anyway, both of my parents are huge Penguins fans and have some great stories about the team from back in the day. From 1989 to 2006, Craig Patrick—the assistant coach of the 1980 U.S. ‘Miracle on Ice’ team—served as the general manager of the Penguins. Sometime in the 90’s, a close but not immediate family member of mine wound up dating Patrick’s son. My parents got me hocked on hockey at an early age, but before I even knew how to spell Jaromir Jagr, I was gifted one of my most prized possessions: a Penguins puck signed by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
It’s at my parents’ house, so no picture unfortunately, but if that’s all a convoluted family relationship got me, then I consider myself quite lucky.
Ryan Jones’s game-used stick, signed
This will probably come off as a weird story, but one of my favorite Nashville players of all time is Ryan Jones. When I was growing up, I went to a hockey camp each summer at Miami University (of Ohio) where Jones played four years of college hockey. Miami enjoyed remarkable success in those years, going to the NCAA tournament three of Jones’s four years. Part of the camp each summer involved some of the players serving as “celebrity coaches” for our final game.
This camp was a big deal for a lot of youth players in the South and Midwest. You stayed in the dorms on campus, spent all week at Miami’s beautiful Goggin Ice Center and received invaluable instruction on and off the ice from some of the NCAA’s premier coaches and Nashville’s own Mitch Korn.
I fell in love with the program while attending camp, and Ryan Jones quickly became one of my favorite players as I had a chance to meet him one summer. Flash forward a couple years and I was thrilled when Jones suited up for Nashville from 2008 to 2010. At one of the used equipment sales during that time, I was lucky enough to snag one of Jones’s sticks and always had the goal of getting him to sign it. A few years later, Jones and the Edmonton Oilers came into town, and I was fortunate to run into him outside of the Hilton one afternoon before the game. I came prepared with the stick hoping to ask for an autograph; I would have been 13 or 14 at the time.
Jones was kind enough to sign and chat with me. He asked why his, of all players’, was the stick I wanted, and I explained to him my time at Miami growing up and reminisced about meeting him at camp. He was so thrilled to hear how much of an impact he had on me, my love for the game and for college hockey. I wish I had a picture, but the stick is also at my parents’ house.
I have two kids. I got into hockey at 30 when we moved to the greater Nashville area, so all my cutesy stories involve my children and not me. Yes, the kids have met a lot of the players and have collected quite a few autographs. I’ve even been lucky enough to win the “shirts off our backs” contest and won the jersey off of Anthony Bitetto’s back (technically, he was a healthy scratch that game, so he just brought it out to me). But of all those tangible things, probably the greatest thing I have is a video. Here’s the story:
My son, Caelan (now 5, then 3) has been a Ryan Ellis fan since he started understanding that what he saw on TV was a sport and that the same players were playing in each game. On a whim, during spring break, I took my 8-year-old daughter to watch practice at Centennial Sportsplex. Afterwards, she went out to the parking lot fence (back before it was privacy screened) to say “Hi” and take pictures with the guys. Of course, the boy was at daycare, so when I saw Ryan Ellis come out, I asked him if he’d mind saying “Hello” to my son on a short video and he agreed.
So, when we got home and picked Caelan up from daycare, we told him we had a surprise and showed him the video. Of course, at 3 years old, he didn’t really understand that it was prerecorded and kept trying to talk back. He probably watched the video thousands of times before we went to the next practice at Centennial.
Of course, they finally got to meet after the next practice and that started the beginning of their beautiful friendship. Several meetings and pucks later, they are best friends.
I’m not a huge collector of memorabilia, but one of the coolest artifacts still in my possession is a poster of the inaugural Predators team. These were the Predators who were on the active roster for the team’s first game against the Florida Panthers way back in October 1998.
I’m not exactly sure when I got it, but it’s been in my childhood room since 1998. Whenever I go home for a visit, it’s always a fun treat to laugh at the baby versions of Barry Trotz and David Poile. There are also a few cameos from guys who only made a handful of appearances for the Preds before making a name for themselves elsewhere, like Greg de Vries and Jeff Daniels.
Another prized possession from childhood (that unfortunately, has been lost over the years) is an autographed “Canada” puck from Mike Dunham (yes, I realize he’s American, let me get to that). I had bought the puck at the duty free shop along the Windsor-Detroit border during my first ever visit to Canada—a trip that also involved a Burger King and technically sneaking across the border—but that’s another post for another day.
Anyway, before the inaugural season, the Preds were hosting their training camps at Bridgestone Arena, and most of them were open to the public. The team had autograph sessions after each practice. I got autographs from a bunch of players in my “autograph book,” which used to be a thing. But for some reason, I specifically wanted Mike Dunham—and ONLY Mike Dunham—to sign the puck. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe because I was a goalie on my soccer team? Maybe my dad thought he was going to be the first “superstar” on the Preds? Look…I have no idea what was going through nine-year-old Nick’s brain at the time. All I know is that somewhere on this Earth, there’s a “Canada” puck with a picture of a moose autographed by a guy from Johnson City, New York.
Mine is relatively predictable, but nonetheless one of my most prized possessions—an autographed Pekka Rinne jersey.
During the 2017 playoff run, a local radio stationed announced a gathering for fans at the airport to see the Predators off on their trip to Anaheim for the Western Conference Finals. My teenaged son and one of his friends decided to ride to the airport with me, and we were able to high-five, take photos, and get autographs from a number of the players. (My son’s photo with Roman Josi made it on his senior night basketball poster.)
Two years prior to this, I had suffered a hip injury that required multiple surgeries. One of my doctor’s former patients was none other than Pekka Rinne. At every physical therapy appointment I would see his jersey hanging on their wall. It was a huge encouragement to me to see someone come back from a similar injury and be able to compete like Pekka was. Now my autographed Pekka jersey hangs in my workout room at home.
Well, I have two. While I don’t have any pictures, I am sure you can see them in your mind’s eye!
First, my favorite jersey. Gold Adidas with the keyboard neckline—Matt Cullen. I’ve always liked the gritty (please excuse any mascot image that came to mind) players and when it came down to choosing that year, Matt won out over Eric Nystrom (thank goodness!). I wore that shirt even when he played for the Pittsburgh Penguins (who were my favorite team most of my life), but finally replaced it when he went to Minnesota.
Second, my Jordin Tootoo whistle (I know). I had one from about my third Nashville Predators game and he was my first jersey. About 7-8 years ago, I gave it to one of my grandchildren, who, of course, did not appreciate the significance. I was so happy when they sold them again at his appreciation night and I could get a replacement!
I have a gold jersey signed by the 2014-2015 team. It’s in a frame now. I got it as a present for my 24th birthday. I can’t tell you how I got a basic jersey signed by the entire team (and Coach Peter Laviolette), but I had a pretty awesome hook-up. It might get my gift-giver in trouble. PS: The jersey and the signatures on it were completely free…BUT, it was not stolen.
Of course, none of these items can truly replace the hockey hole in fans’ hearts right now. With the season in limbo, fans are left clinging to memories to pass the time until hockey returns…if it returns this season. While waiting for the next puck drop, OTF would love to know—what is your favorite piece of hockey memorabilia?