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Like A Fine Wine, Rinne Getting Better with Age

Nashville Goaltender Passes Idol to Become Winningest Finnish Netminder in NHL History

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Senior Communications & Content Coordinator

It wasn't all that long ago that a handful of Predators representatives headed to Finland to see a goalie they had been hearing about.

He had size, athleticism, agility, quickness and a slew of other intangibles that could lead to a potential career in the NHL. It was worth the journey to get a closer look.

But, even in the days when social media was in its infancy, word still got out to the head coach of the team that there were NHL eyes coming to see the goaltender.

Wanting to keep his assets to himself, the coach decided to play him in a backup role that night. Those from Nashville wouldn't be able to see the man they were after in game action.

To this day, Pekka Rinne says it may have been the hardest he's ever worked during warmups, trying to give himself every last chance to make an impression.

Some 15 years and 320 wins later, Rinne is the greatest goaltender the country of Finland has ever produced.

With a 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night in Nashville, Rinne passed Miikka Kiprusoff - one of his idols - to become the winningest Finnish netminder in NHL history.

It's been quite a journey for the man from Kempele since he was drafted by the Preds in the eighth round back in 2004. There was a time when he didn't know where Nashville, Tennessee, was on a map. Now, he could probably win a mayoral election in the city.

Humble as ever, the 2018 Vezina Trophy winner wasn't about to make a big deal of his latest accomplishment. No matter. There are plenty of others more than willing to do it for him.

"It's remarkable," Predators Goaltending Coach Ben Vanderklok said. "It's such a special milestone. He's done so much in his career already with his accomplishments, but I think there's something special about this one going back to his homeland."

Rinne's Finnish teammates with the Predators - winger Miikka Salomaki and goaltender Juuse Saros - admit they still shake their heads sometimes that they're now sharing a locker room with a man they grew up watching thousands of miles away.

Salomaki knows his country has become a hotbed for producing NHL goaltenders, especially in recent memory, but in his mind, there isn't one better than Rinne.

"I feel like he's just getting better as he gets older, and that's awesome," Salomaki said of Rinne. "He's obviously been a huge part of our team, just like a backbone. He's had an unreal career and he's just getting better every day."

And then there's Saros. He and Rinne have built a bond that is equivalent to that of father and son, with the elder netminder - by 13 years to be exact - taking Saros under his wing from the day he arrived in Nashville. The 23-year-old no longer has his mail sent to Rinne's address, as he's now gotten a place of his own, but they're still as close as ever.

Therefore, when Salomaki scooped up the puck as the final horn sounded on Wednesday to present it to the starting netminder, there may not have been anyone else in the building happier than Saros.

"It's still really cool to be on the same team and be teammates and witness all the records that he's making," Saros said. "It's kind of funny to think of watching back home when I was young, seeing him play and being a fan. Now, I'm over here and I'm a teammate."

Vanderklok, who knows what makes his goaltenders tick better than just about anyone else, has played an integral role in adapting Rinne's style to keep him performing at such a high level. It doesn't come as any shock to the goaltending coach that Rinne has reached another milestone, but that doesn't make it any less impressive.

"He's just a remarkable goaltender, but I'm not surprised," Vanderklok said of Rinne. "He's such a good pro, he goes about his business every single day, and hopefully he's got a lot more wins in him. But I'm just really proud of him and happy for him. To set this record for his homeland, it's unbelievable."

Rinne knows he won't play forever, but at 36, he's not showing many signs of slowing down either. In some ways, it still seems like yesterday when he gave his all in a warmup in Finland.

For now, he's continuing to do what he's done for 11 full NHL seasons, the Finnish flag flying on the back of his mask from the start.

"You see how he plays now, it feels like he's a fine wine," Saros said with a grin. "He's getting better every year."

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