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Stadium Series return to roots for wrestler Young

by Evan Sporer

Eric Young may be famous for his prowess in a wrestling ring, but long before he won the Total Nonstop Action Wrestling world heavyweight championship, he was a kid growing up in Canada with a passion for hockey.

"We played as much hockey as everything; that was the only thing to do," Young, who grew up in Florence, Ontario, told "You play road hockey in the summer, and when it gets cold enough and the river freezes and floods the field you play pond hockey."

Even though Young traded in his skates for wrestling boots, he said he still roots for his childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. After moving to Nashville in 2004, he also became a Nashville Predators fan.

TNA wrestler Eric Young will be one of about 70,000 expected fans at Levi's Stadium for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. (Photo: Lee South Photography)

On Saturday, Young will be one of about 70,000 expected at Levi's Stadium for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series when the San Jose Sharks take on the Los Angeles Kings (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2).

"I'm pumped. I wanted to go to L.A. and Anaheim last year, and I was working, and I remember just not being able to make it to the game," Young said. "I've never gone to a football game [at Levi's Stadium], and I know the stadium, from what I've read and what I saw on TV, is supposed to be state of the art."

Young is no stranger to outdoor hockey.

He said until he began playing organized hockey in the peewee ranks, he almost exclusively played on outdoor ice. In 2014, Young got a chance to take in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic when the Maple Leafs faced the Detroit Red Wings in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"That's how I played hockey growing up. When you played, you played outside," Young said. "The river would flood up and flood the fields near my house.

"Just these massive hockey rinks would pop up in all these fields and all these pastures near where I lived.

"Being at the Winter Classic last year was my best sports memory, and [the Stadium Series] will be good."

His interest and involvement in hockey hasn't waned through the years. Young has become involved with the Predators organization, playing in its charity golf tournament this summer and speaking at its prospects camp.

"I got to go in and talk to the prospects and Filip Forsberg was there," Young said. "I'm going to claim that my speech is why he's been really good this year."

With the NHL regular season past the halfway point, Young said he likes the Predators to come out of the Western Conference, especially after the recent acquisitions of defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli.

"A great deal for me as a Predators fan," Young said. "Franson and Santorelli were both drafted by [Nashville general manager] David Poile, drafted by the organization.

"Franson is a first-pairing defense on any team in the NHL. For the Predators, he's probably going to play on the second pairing.

"Before that trade they probably had the best defense, and now, you can't argue with me that the Predators don't have the best defense in the League."

Like hockey, Young said professional wrestling is something better seen in-person than on television. Young says he knows exactly who he's taking if he should need to pluck someone from the NHL to join the TNA roster.

"Dustin Byfuglien; he's a big dude," Young said. "Wrestling is definitely a sport of big guys. Not all big guys like it used to be. I'm not a massive, massive person, but Byfuglien is just a big dude."

Young said a big part of being a professional wrestler is being charismatic, a quality he said he thinks many professional hockey players have, and something he’s noticed watching "EPIX Presents Road to the NHL Stadium Series."

"It gives people a chance to see them as real people and show their personalities," Young said. "A lot of times when the cameras are on and they're being interviewed they're kind of trained from when they're kids not to say too much, and team-first, and be respectful.

"I'm fine with that too, but I wish there was more of an outlet to show the personalities and the cool guys that are playing the sport at such a high level."


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