NHL, Nashville unveil All-Star Legacy Family Center

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 3:06 PM
Mike Battaglino  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- Someone's all-star dream started today at what used to be a flooded lumber yard.

The National Hockey League and Nashville Inner City Ministry on Friday unveiled a 30,000-square-foot space that dozens of children already were using to stick-handle and shoot street hockey balls at brand-new nets.

"It's a very special day, it's a dream come true, it's an answer to a prayer," ministry president Lytle Thomas said, shedding tears. "... I am so thankful to the Predators and the NHL; you don't know how important you are. You don't know how much good you're doing."

The 2016 NHL All-Star Legacy Family Life Center is part of a facility that includes a nursery, playground, pantry and classrooms. The ministry outreach helps more than 4,000 youth and their families each year.

"NHL All-Star Weekend is a time when our great players and our great fans can join and celebrate our sport," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's a teamwork project, and that's where collective success is achieved. The same collaboration that we see by our players on the ice can also reflect itself in good works off the ice.

"And it's always a priority of ours -- the League's, the players, mine -- to channel the combined power that we all have -- the players, the teams, the fans, business partners -- to make a difference in people's lives, not only while we're here for All-Star Weekend, but long after we leave from this weekend."

The ministry, which operates 20 learning centers in the city, worked closely with the Predators to formulate a plan for what could be done. It involved every level of the organization, including the wives and girlfriends who helped build the nursery in partnership with the Teammates for Kids foundation.

"The wives are always on board to get involved," Kristen Laviolette, wife of Predators coach Peter Laviolette, said. "It's our way of being a team off the ice, with our team on the road and doing what they're doing on the ice, the wives come together, and to be able to give back to the community, especially in a light like this, it's amazing. You can't even put it into words; I'm overwhelmed by how much they're giving back in this community from this building."

All-stars Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets, Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Roman Josi of the Predators helped with the ribbon cutting.

"You see how involved the Predators are, it's a great thing," said Josi, who will play in his first All-Star Game on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena. "You always get excited if you see kids smile or put a smile on kids' faces. It's always a great cause. I'm definitely very happy to be part of it."

There were plenty of smiles to go around, with the children playing street hockey in a room that can be used for just about anything the ministry might need.

"It's a fantastic facility," former NHL player Willie O'Ree said. "... It's mind-boggling. I never had a facility like this when I was growing up, where you could come and play. ...

"I think that the NHL looked at this facility and said, here's an investment where it would promise, down the years ... for these kids to play. Now these kids will set goals and dreams for themselves here."

McDonald's, Franklin Sports and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee also are contributors. Special mention was made of former Predators CEO Jeff Cogen and current CEO and president Sean Henry, who helped build the Predators' presence in the city.

"Hockey is not just entertainment on the weekends," former Predators player J.P. Dumont said. "It's a lifestyle [here]. ... A lot, a lot of kids -- I'm not just talking boys, I'm talking boys and girls -- are playing hockey, and the Predators helping out, it's a definitely a big part of them to help in the community as well."

The Predators Foundation last year donated more than $1 million to more than 100 organizations.

"When we learned we were going to get the All-Star Game -- after we got over the euphoria of the moment -- we then understood that there was going to be a legacy grant," Predators chairman and governor Tom Cigarrin said. "... Nowhere did we find an organization that had the potential to do more good -- they all do wonderful things -- than this."

The building used to be a boots factory before it became a lumber yard that was damaged by the floods in the city in 2010. Now it's a bright, welcoming place with inspirational quotes and pictures of Predators throughout.

Plans include adding a basketball court, indoor track and more classrooms to the total 90,000 square feet.

"I think what you see today is stunning," Cigarrin said. "I mean, this is amazing what they've done with the money we've been able to give them. And we are humbled by the opportunity to help."

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