My first hockey memory doesn’t involve any National Hockey League team, nor does it involve any NHL players; rather, my first hockey memory is the women’s hockey Gold Medal Game between the United States and Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The women playing that game impressed me with their skill and the sport of hockey captivated me. From that moment on, I not only became a hockey fan, but also an Olympics fan.
Unfortunately for huge Olympic fans out there like myself, the Games only come once every two years. However, the International Olympic Committee joins together every June 23 to celebrate Olympic Day. Specifically, Olympic Day is a celebration commemorating the birth of the modern Olympic Games on this day in 1894. In the spirit of the Olympics, the day connects people across the world in celebrating the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect and the specific Olympic Day pillar of move, learn and discover.
For me, Olympic Day is also a great time to take a look back at some of my favorite Olympic memories, whether that’s watching a few heart-pounding swimming relays from Beijing (2008) or London (2012) in preparation for next summer’s Games in Rio de Janiero or reliving the American women’s Gold Medal win in 1998.
In the spirit of Olympic Day, let’s take a mid-summer look at the Nashville Predators’ Olympic history.
Since the Preds joined the NHL in 1998, the team has had current players represent the franchise 24 times, and have had players on medal winning squads in all four Games. In addition to those that have represented the team on the ice, General Manager David Poile served as the General Manager for Team USA at the 2014 Olympics and as Associate General Manager at the 2010 Games.
The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, were the first Games that saw Preds representatives skate for their respective countries during the hockey tournament. That year, Richard Lintner and Jan Lasak represented Slovakia, Oliver Setzinger played for Austria, Karlis Skrastins skated for Latvia, Mike Dunham tended goal for Team USA and Kimmo Timonen suited up for Finland. Dunham and the Americans took home the silver medal, the first Olympic medal in Predators franchise history.
Four years later, seven Predators players represented Nashville in the Torino Olympic Games – including a second appearance by Timonen. Timonen, along with Preds teammate Jukka Hentunen, took home the silver medal, the second Olympic medal won by Preds players and the first of two medals that year; Tomas Vokoun and Martin Erat earned bronze while representing the Czech Republic.
At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, where Nashville had seven representatives for the second consecutive Winter Games, a Preds player was a member of the Gold Medal winning squad for the first time. That year, Nashville Captain Shea Weber and Team Canada defeated Weber’s then defensive partner Ryan Suter and Team USA in the tournament’s final game.
Most recently, Nashville sent four representatives to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, where Weber and Team Canada took home their second consecutive Gold Medal. Roman Josi, who represented his native Switzerland at the Olympics for the first time in 2014, spoke highly of his first experience at the Games.
“It was a great experience over there,” Josi told NashvillePredators.com when he returned from the 2014 Games. “The village was great, the Russians were really friendly, the food was good, everything was really good. It was definitely a great experience for me.”
We have more than a year before the next Olympic Games (the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil open on Aug. 5, 2016) and even longer before hockey is played again (the 2018 Winter Olympics are slated to be played in PyeongChang, South Korea). Take a minute or two today to watch Weber highlights from Sochi or another favorite Olympic clip and celebrate the excellence, friendship and respect the Olympics are all about – for both the athletes and the fans that cheer them on.
Happy Olympic Day!