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Over 500 Games Down, Pekka Rinne Striving for More

After Reaching the 500-Game Milestone, Nashville's Goaltender Hopes His Best Memories Are Still Ahead

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Communications & Content Coordinator

It was December of 2005, just 10 days before Christmas, when a young Finn led his club out onto the ice in Nashville for the first time.

He remembers feeling the nerves, the buzz in the crowd, stopping 35 out of 38 shots the Chicago Blackhawks threw his way - and then it was over. One NHL appearance, one NHL win.

Eleven years, three months and one day later, the netminder led his team to the ice in Washington D.C., and then turned aside 21 of 22 shots in a 2-1 overtime win - in his 500th career game.

"That's a lot of hockey," Pekka Rinne laughed when reflecting on the milestone.

When Rinne started for the Nashville Predators - the only NHL club he's ever known - on March 16 in Washington, he became the 67th goaltender in League history to hit the 500-game mark and only the 24th to do so for a single team.

Originally selected in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Draft - a round that doesn't even exist anymore - Rinne holds virtually every goaltending record in Nashville Predators franchise history, with all 502 regular-season appearances of his career coming with the club. He's the franchise's all-time leader in games played, wins, saves, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage.

The Kempele, Finland, native will be honored for his 500 NHL games - and counting - prior to Saturday's game against San Jose at Bridgestone Arena, receiving the recognition someone of his stature rightfully deserves.

And for all the on-ice accolades he's earned since that first save in 2005, everyone who knows Rinne best unequivocally states his character far surpasses his athletic ability, which is no small statement.

"I knew he was a special person and athlete when I first met the guy," Preds forward Vernon Fiddler, who just happened to score the game-winning goal in Rinne's first start, said. "He was a very humble guy that keeps everything even keel. He's not only the backbone to our team, but he's also an elite goaltender and great person."

Former Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz, who was behind the bench for Rinne's first appearance, was on the other side of the ice running things for Washington in Rinne's 500th outing, and the bond between bench boss and netminder goes much deeper than stopping pucks.

"The thing I love about Peks is he hasn't changed since the day I met him," Trotz said prior to Rinne's 500th. "We had a really good relationship, and I'm really proud of what he's done for 500 games, but the person that he is in the community, in the NHL, around people, he's absolutely outstanding. To me, he's always going to be one of my favorites, as a player and as a person."

Rinne has endeared himself to fans in Nashville and beyond with not only his puck-stopping abilities but also his affinity for bettering the place he calls home. So upon reflecting on his time spent with the organization and the city over the past 12 years, of course the game-saving stops and postseason triumphs came to mind, but something stood out above the game itself.  

"I've been here for the longest now of any of the players, and you realize how many guys you've played with and it's pretty amazing how many friendships you create," Rinne said. "That's still probably the biggest thing you take away. It doesn't feel like I came over 12 years ago, and it's crazy how fast it goes."

Once his mind began to wander down that road, Rinne was then quick to reel it in. He believes there is still plenty to accomplish with the franchise and the city, and while he knows he may not have 500 more in him, there's still records to set, firsts to reach.

"I think the older you get, the more you try to cherish these moments and these opportunities you get," Rinne said. "You realize how lucky we are and how lucky I am. Sometimes you forget that; you don't always think like that, but lot of times I remind myself that if it's good or if it's bad or whatever it is, it's such a privilege to be here, to play here and live here."

Rinne's off-ice work with Best Buddies, plus his role with the 365 Fund presented by Twice Daily and Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital put the size of his heart on display, but in a humble manner - which is perfect, because that's exactly how he prefers things to be.

"I think what I see in Pekka was a young man who's grown to be a great leader, great person, and he's sort of passing the torch on," Trotz said. "That makes me very proud as someone who had a chance to coach him and had a chance to see a young man grow into a great player, but a great person as well."

For the 267 wins, the 42 shutouts, the 13,963 saves, the three Vezina Trophy nominations and the countless deeds that won't show up on the stat line, there are still a few more things Rinne wants before he makes his final save, whenever that day happens to come.

Until then, Rinne will never forget the first one, always working for more - one poke check, one pad stack, one salute to Smashville at a time.

"It's been a fun ride," Rinne said, "but I hope that my best memories from Nashville are ahead of me."

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