It truly was an unexpected pleasure to be reading one of my favorite authors last week – Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin – as he promptly transported me back to the early years of the Predators’ franchise.
His lead: “Bubba Berenzweig, the former Nashville Predator, has a wonderful Dixie-Judeo mash-up of a name…” as he began a trip through many of the great names of hockey’s past and present. Later, he mentions: “Until this season, Jordin Tootoo wore 22, but he was also born on Feb. 2 – 2/2 – which is too, too improbable.” (See the article here)
So began my trip back in time, remembering this native of Arlington Heights, IL, who had played four years for Red Berenson at the University of Michigan. The New York Islanders had drafted him following his freshman year with the Wolverines in 1996, but the Predators traded for him when he finished in Ann Arbor and he joined the Milwaukee Admirals for the 1999-2000 season.
He was born Andrew David Berenzweig, but was called “Bubba” long before he landed in the South. He had helped Michigan win National Championships as both a freshman and a junior. The second of those was more difficult – the Frozen Four was in Boston, and the Wolverines beat Boston College in overtime!
Bubba made the NCAA All-Tournament team that year, along with goaltender Marty Turco, whom we would all get to know better later on.
With the Predators, Bubba first earned his notoriety for his name alone. He played parts of four seasons for the Predators, getting called up from Milwaukee. He was known for setting up camp on the “back door,” and thus his on-air nickname became “Back Door Bubba.” On December 29, 2001, he got his first chance to play against the Detroit Red Wings.
Going into that game, Nashville was 4-13-2 all-time versus Detroit. They trailed Detroit, 2-0, in the third period. That was when Bubba went to work. He and Petr Tenkrat set up a goal by Vitali Yachmenev to pull within one.
With 65 seconds left in regulation, Tenkrat and Bubba assisted on a powerplay goal by Vladimir Orszagh (“The Slovakian Tank,” as he was dubbed by Terry Crisp) to tie the game. Little did we know at that time that Bubba had the perfect set-up to be the No. 1 Star that night.
[ESPN box score]
That will be my Bubba Berenzweig memory forever!
As for Jordin Tootoo, what can I say about one of the most unique individuals I have ever met? He was the first Inuit to play in an NHL game. The coverage leading up to the opening game of the 2003-04 season was incredible.
Predators opponents quickly learned to be aware of where Jordin was at all times. From the outset, he played like a heat-seeking missile. He became a fan favorite with 16 fights in his first season. Tootoo made indelible impressions on many, the first being Islanders’ defenseman Radek Martinek, not to mention the Dallas Stars’ Stephane Robidas.
Today, Bubba Berenzweig is President of the Hylant Insurance firm in Toledo, Ohio. Meanwhile, Jordin Tootoo has continued his career (after two seasons in the Detroit Red Wings’ organization) with the New Jersey Devils (where he wears uniform #20). At times this year, I have felt sorry for Devils’ play-by-play announcers Matt Loughlin and Steve Cangialosi. Imagine the tongue-twisting possibilities of Jordin Tootoo playing on the same line with Tuomo Ruutu!
In any case, many thanks to Steve Rushin for rekindling those memories!