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From Goalball to Hospital Visits, Preds Have Special Impact on Community Day

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

From hospital visits to street hockey surprises, the Nashville Predators were out and about on Monday, making stops throughout the Nashville area for the team’s 10th Annual Community Relations Day. Smiles were shared and friends were made along the way; take a look at some of the adventures.

Preds Try “Goalball” at Tennessee School for the Blind:

“Well, this is not going to be easy,” Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith said with a laugh as he slipped on full-blinding goggles and felt his way to his position in front of his net.

A whistle blow, a bell-ringing ball throw and a dive to the gym floor later, the Preds leading goalscorer this season had confirmed his initial prediction - goalball is not easy. Smith and Predators blueliner Victor Bartley visited the Tennessee School for the Blind to try out the game first hand with equipment donated by the Nashville Predators Foundation. The game, which requires players not naturally visually impaired to don sight-stopping goggles and listen for the incoming ball to make a saves or take shots, was declared an immediate hit by both players.

“We really enjoyed it, especially on a day off like this, we can get out and meet some people in the community, and it’s nice to be able to come here and spend a day with them and try this game,” Smith said. “It’s especially cool to try a game that’s kind of their own, so we’re learning, and it was fun today and we really enjoyed it.”

Despite receiving a scouting report from goaltender Carter Hutton, who tried the game a couple years ago, Bartley was still taken aback by all there was to learn in a short time period.

“Communication is everything in goalball, I was asking people on the sidelines, ‘where am I? where am I supposed to go?’” Bartley said. “It was a great time coming out and coming to support them and have a great time with the kids.

“We were talking about all the stuff the [Foundation] has donated to the school here, it’s great to see. They’re such big supporters of us, so we’re so happy to come back here and spend a day with the kids and all the people here.”

Preds Fight Hunger at Second Harvest:

One in four children in Tennessee aren’t sure where their next meal will come from, but members of the Predators organization did their part to put a dent in that statistic.

Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis, forward Austin Watson and members of the Predators front office donated their time at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee on Monday as part of the organization’s Community Relations Day.

“It’s always great to have volunteers, but it’s especially great to have athletes such as the Predators and members of the Predators organization come out and assist us today,” President and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee Jaynee Day said. “It sets a great example for the community and their leadership in this particular area. They know how important it is to feed hungry people, so just through engagement today, which will help raise awareness throughout the issue of hunger.”

Ellis and Watson packed snack bags that will be distributed throughout the area to local schools with students that may be going home hungry. Those recipients will not only have full stomachs, but also the fuel they need to thrive.

“Any time we get a chance to give back is great and to be able to pack some food up here, have the opportunity to get some snacks and some meals to kids is awesome,” Watson said. “I know Ryan and I are definitely happy to be here.”

“Honestly, it’s a joy to come out here and today,” Ellis said. “We don’t get to see the kids, but you know that when they do receive these bags, they’re going to be very excited to have something nutritious and healthy to eat.”

Ribeiro and Jackman Channel Artistic Side for Charity:

Mike Ribeiro is accustomed to being artistic on the ice with his ability to dish pucks left and right, but he and teammate Barret Jackman traded in their sticks for paint brushes on Monday.

The two Preds took part in a paint party at Pinot’s Palette in Brentwood, in conjunction with A Soldier’s Child, an organization that sponsors children who have lost a parent who was serving in the military.

“This organization will provide birthday gifts for the children until they’re 18, so every year they’ll have something special to look forward to,” Preds Senior Director of Community Relations Rebecca King said.

The participants kept their paintings, after receiving an autograph from Ribeiro and Jackman, and the art created by the Preds forward and defenseman will also be autographed and then auctioned off at a later date.

Forsberg, Bitetto Surprise Children with Street Hockey Game:

Several dozen children from Maplewood neighborhood in Franklin, Tenn., were happy to transform their local tennis court into a street hockey rink when they looked out their windows and saw two Nashville Predators players pull up in the Preds Youth Hockey van.

One of the Predators representatives, forward Filip Forsberg, also played a pickup game a year ago with Middle Tennessee children, and said he was excited to participate in a surprise game again. The Predators leading scorer last season did want a little more offensive production from himself, however.

“I think the goalie was better this year, so it was a tougher game,” Forsberg said. “It was only 2-2 this game. [Preds d-man Anthony Bitetto] got a goal, but I had two apples, so two points is beating one point, so I’ll take that.”

Bitetto, a native of Island Park, N.Y., enjoyed trying hockey with tennis shoes on, something he didn’t get to do that often while growing up in the northeastern United States.

“Probably in New York there would’ve been six or seven fights,” Bitetto joked. “It was good, a lot of fun. It was nice to see the kids happy and it was nice to see [kids wearing] [Milwaukee] Admirals jerseys too. It was a fun day.”

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