Hockey players can superstitious creatures of habit, but Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm Mattias Ekholm might have the cutest ritual of all.
Two years ago he developed a pregame routine with Alice Kraft, now 4 years old. He addresses her with a smile, a wave and a puck against the glass in her direction before Predators home games at Bridgestone Arena.
"Very late in warmups, I started to flip the puck at the glass and all of a sudden there was a girl there, and she was there every time, and we just started this routine," Ekholm told the Predators website. "Now it's pretty intense, and we do it every game."
Kraft and her family go to the lower bowl for the warmup to be within Ekholm's sight, and he makes sure to acknowledge her before leaving for the locker room. He's added a fist bump against the glass this season.
"She just kind of clung to him because he made her feel special," Kraft's mom Emily said. "It's just always been him, I guess. She recognizes him, his number down on the ice. She can point out where he is and when we see him on TV, she always says, 'There's my friend!'"
Alice donned Ekholm's jersey when the Krafts met with the defenseman after a recent practice. Though she was too shy to acknowledge her favorite player directly, Alice left the meeting with one of Ekholm's sticks personally autographed to her.
"She puts a smile to my face, and hopefully I can do the same," Ekholm said. "It's a special bond, just something that came up naturally that isn't forced. Hopefully she enjoyed it and looking back at it with joy, and hopefully she will keep coming back for warmups."