NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators forward James Neal hosted a hockey clinic for kids at Ford Ice Center in Nashville to benefit Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
It was Neal's second annual hockey clinic for kids ages 7-14, and included 75 minutes of on-ice instruction for each child and an additional 75 minutes of off-ice instruction.
"Growing up as a kid outside Toronto in Whitby, Ontario, just playing with junior hockey players and being able to see them and kids you look up to," Neal said. "Obviously the [Toronto Maple Leafs] are there and I looked up to all of those guys. To be able to do this for the kids and be out there playing around with them, it's really cool because it's something that I remember as a kid, so it's awesome."
Being able to host a hockey clinic that benefitted Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee was equally as important for Neal. Make-A-Wish has been helping children and families that are dealing with life-threatening medical conditions for years.
"It's a great foundation," Neal said. "A foundation that changes a lot of people's lives, children and families. If you have a chance, go on and see Make-A-Wish Foundation online. It's a great cause."
Neal's Predators teammates, Ryan Johansen and Austin Watson, helped with the hockey clinic by providing on-ice instruction. They said it was a rewarding experience for them to help out and be able to interact with the kids.
"I see myself in these kids," Johansen said. "It's awesome that players like James Neal and the NHL work together in putting on things like this. It's so great for the community and kids growing up. It's all about having fun and chasing their dreams. For them to be out here with us, players who are living our dreams, it's special."
There is a palpable buzz around the city of Nashville about hockey heading into the 2016-17 season. Neal is entering his third season with the Predators and believes hockey has grown dramatically in the area during his time in Nashville.
"It's unbelievable," Neal said. "The city is growing, the fans are growing and there's an excitement around the Nashville Predators so it's awesome to be a part of."