Every Nashville Predators player, the team's staff and many of their fans set out into Middle Tennessee on Oct. 12 with the intention of leaving the community a little better off than they found it. Players and staff visited more than a dozen nonprofits, gave away tickets, and primarily tried to brighten the day of anyone they met.
Metro Police Ticket Delivery:
When a man entered a movie theater in Antioch - a few yards away from the Ford Ice Center - armed with a hatchet and pepper spray in August of 2015, officers from the Metro Nashville Police Department's South Precinct were the first on the scene, risking their lives to protect others.
So when the Nashville Predators wanted to donate four, full-season tickets, the precinct was a natural choice as a reward for the work the men and women did that day, and every day on their job.
Preds forwards James Neal and Calle Jarnkrok stopped by last week during an afternoon roll call to make the special delivery and share a few laughs with the officers.
"To meet a few of them and talk a little bit, they do a tough job and for their support and the support we show them, it's a great working relationship," Neal said. "To be able to say hello was a nice little touch today."
Neal and Jarnkrok were also nice enough to sign their respective jerseys and donate them to two lucky officers, just a small token to say thanks for keeping the community safe.
"We've always had a great working relationship with the Predators, and we appreciate them and the players coming today and introducing themselves to our men and women of the South Precinct, and also bringing the season tickets that they did for the men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department," MNPD Commander Paul Trickey said. "It's very kind of them to do that, and we appreciate the support they show us and that we have for them."
Boys & Girls Club of Maury County at SOAR Adventure Tour:
High atop a contraption of wood, steel and nets, Preds goaltender Marek Mazanec and forward Kevin Fiala spent an afternoon climbing and laughing with children from the Boys & Girls Club of Maury County.
The mission was simple: The Preds duo would entertain a group of kids who don't often get to try fun-filled activities like scaling the SOAR climbing tower in Franklin, Tennessee. Mazanec, who's spending his first full season in Nashville as the team's backup netminder, said he relished the opportunity to show the young generation it's possible to give back even through the smaller things.
"You have a chance to show you're not just a robot, you're a human being. You see the people and how much they appreciate it, so I really like to do things in the community," Mazanec said. "It was awesome. It was a good group of kids, and the whole thing was really fun and also the tower was challenging [to climb]."
It was evident from Mike Ribeiro's form that he's played the game of basketball a time or two. But in a wheelchair? That was a first.
Ribeiro and P.K. Subban tried their hand at wheelchair basketball with the Thunder Wheelchair Basketball team as part of ABLE Youth, a wheelchair sports and independence group for children of all ages. The organization helps participants learn to become independent, using sports as a catalyst, with wheelchair basketball a prominent activity.
"It's a very competitive team; I think some people are surprised that wheelchair basketball is this competitive and this rough, but the kids play hard and they love it, they love the chance to be like everybody else and all the other kids their age," Executive Director of ABLE Youth Amy Saffell said.
Ribeiro and Subban spent the afternoon doing anything they could to score against those who were half their age in most cases, but the interaction between the Preds and the players was filled with plenty of playful competitiveness along the way.
"I always like to play sports with kids and see their smiles and how they react," Ribeiro said. "It was just nice to be around all those kids and see what they go through, be able to make them smile and have a great time and not think about much, just having fun."
"I think that they've really embraced being in a chair and what it means to be a wheelchair athlete, and they've learned that it is hard work just like what they do, but they're pretty good, they're pretty impressive," Saffell said of Subban and Ribeiro. "They've just done a wonderful job with it. And they've done well with our kids, our kids have loved having them and it's been fun to watch them interact with the kids."
Nolensville Fire Department Ticket Giveaway:
Forward Cody Bass and Craig Smith traveled to the Nolensville Volunteer Fire Department to bless the public servants there with full season tickets for the 2016-17 season.
The Predators wanted to use the donated tickets as a "thank you" for the good the firefighters do for their community, and Bass and Smith were eager to be the messengers. The two Preds players received an unexpected gift of appreciation in return, however. After the necessary salutations were exchanged and the excitement over the ticket gift was expressed, the two Preds wingers were given the opportunity to be firemen for an afternoon - an invitation they accepted readily.
"I've always wanted to be a firefighter too, and I've considered doing that for life after hockey," Bass said. "To go there - I've never actually been there and gotten to experience it all - so that to me was like, I was a kid in a candy store. It was pretty cool."
Gear strapped on, firehose sprayed and fire truck - with sirens on - ridden in, Bass got more than he bargained for in his future career option.
"It's all cool. Handling the fire hose was one thing; that thing's a beast," Bass said with a huge smile on his face. "Their atmosphere, their culture is the exact same thing as a team locker room. Each person has to know one another. They're a team, they support each other, they're there for each other, and they're all volunteers, which is even more special. They give up their time to do something very dangerous, and you can tell, I'm giddy, it was cool. lt was very special; I'm glad we gave them what we did, and they kind of returned the favor right off."
Taking Hockey to the Streets:
What was supposed to be a post-practice dryland training session for the Nashville Predators Select squirt hockey team turned into going up against a couple of NHLers instead.
Anthony Bitetto and Colton Sissons made a surprise appearance after the team's practice at Ford Ice Center to snap some photos, sign some autographs and set up the young hockey players for some goals as well.
"You grow up playing street hockey, and it's so cool to do it now with these kids," Bitetto said. "It's always fun when you put a smile on a kid's face and you see how happy they are we're here, so it's a good thing."
While Bitetto joked he was trying to get in as many goals as he could, he related the experience to just another example of the "Predator Way." A mantra he and so many others who have come up through the organization have been taught to embrace.
"It's the organization as a whole; be a good person off the ice and it translates to how you play on the ice - I really believe that," Bitetto said. "It's everyday type things, and these are just the little things that go a long way for somebody. It's always nice to be involved and help out. The community supports us, so we have to support them."