Timothy Phinney III, or "Trip" for short, became a Predators fan just a few months after he first learned to walk.
He wore all the team apparel. He watched all the games. He would even let others know, as he sat in his bed of the oncology clinic of Monroe Carrel Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, that his connection with the Preds goes above and beyond his fandom.
"He used to sit in front of the TV for hours," Trip's father, Tim, recalled with a smile. "Every time a Predator skated by on the screen, he'd point at them and yell to me, 'Look, it's my friends on the TV!' He always referred to the players as his friends."
Trip had an unbreakable bond with the Predators, a connection that came to fruition when he went to his first game. On the surface, that first game seems like a joyous occasion.
But look a little further, and it becomes a sobering story.
Trip was barely a year old when his parents first heard the news: he had been diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that can spread rapidly throughout the body.
Shortly after hearing the diagnosis, Tim was at a loss for words. He wasn't sure what to say, what to do, or how to handle the situation. He was in need of a distraction.
That's when a nurse at the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Oncology Clinic offered them tickets to a Predators game.
"Those tickets were incredibly helpful for taking our minds off things," Tim said. "Eventually, we got over to Bridgestone Arena and I was just kind of shocked. When the game started, Trip was just sitting in my lap, eyes glued to the ice from beginning to end. Even between periods, all he thought about was hockey. We were sitting in one of the suites [Preds goaltender] Pekka [Rinne] donates to the hospital, so during intermissions, Trip would go over to the mini nets and just start swinging the stick around. He instantly fell in love with hockey. You could see the excitement in his eyes."
Thanks to the team's involvement with the Children's Hospital, Trip was given an outlet from his treatment. At last, Trip had something to root for; furthermore, he had a support network. He knew he wasn't alone in his fight against cancer.
"That's really what Hockey Fights Cancer is all about," Tim said. "Cancer is not something that anybody should ever have to go through, but there are people out there fighting every day. There are people out there who have children who are fighting this battle and don't realize that their lives can be in danger from one day to the next."
Trip's love for hockey remained. His bond with the team only grew stronger when he got the chance to meet the Predators before a game. Evidently, that visit fortified Tim's connection with the team, too.
"We went to meet players outside the locker room and there was one moment that really resonated with me," Tim said. "Someone asked Pekka why he does what he does - you know, why he spends so much of his time, effort and money to help young kids with cancer like my son. Without skipping a beat, Pekka immediately responded, 'Because it's the right thing to do.' That always sat heavily with me. You've got this hockey player, this professional athlete that makes millions every year, and he's just saying it's the right thing to do. That will sit with me for the rest of my life and it will inspire me to go above and beyond in everything I do."
Tim was taken aback by the Preds players. When it came to the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, they would go the extra mile simply because, "it's the right thing to do." They did their part to help children live out their dreams.
That's why today, over two years after Trip's passing, Tim is doing his part to live out his son's dream as a member of the Nashville Predators organization.
He recently noticed a flyer for an open gig as a rink technician at Ford Ice Center Bellevue, and he knew he had to act on the opportunity. Tim held various technician and maintenance jobs across Nashville prior to joining the rink operations team at Ford Ice Bellevue, but he had never worked on a rink.
None of that mattered to Tim. After all, he wasn't just pursuing a job. He was pursuing a dream; a dream that once inspired his son to take cancer to the ropes.
"I've worked maintenance at bowling centers and some other facilities," Tim said. "I figured I'd do the job well. Honestly, when I applied, I wasn't just thinking about that. I was thinking about the bigger picture, and it was more than just an open job for me. I needed to find a way into the organization because it would make Trip so happy.
"Thanks to the NHL, Trip and our family were able to realize that there are people out there who do care. There are people who will fight for you. I'll always fight for Trip, and I know I'm not alone."