Lennon Kimsey couldn't help himself. He was just too excited.
A day removed from his fourth birthday, he ran through the doors of the Hermitage Strike & Spare, laced up his bowling shoes and threw on a Preds & Pins T-shirt. As he approached the lanes with an ear-to-ear smile, he hoisted his fists in the air, echoing the familiar sounds of his favorite chant.
"Let's go Preds! Let's go Preds!"
"I had to remind him where we were," his mother, Kelly Kimsey, remarked through her laughter. "I told him, 'Lennon, it's not the hockey arena. We're just here to bowl.'"
On Dec. 5, the Nashville Predators Foundation powered by SmileDirectClub hosted their Eighth Annual Preds & Pins Celebrity Bowling Tournament presented by UnitedHealthCare. This year, the Smashville community came together and raised more than $25,000 for pediatric cancer research.
While the main objective is to benefit the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund presented by Twice Daily, the outcome - a fun-filled night of friendly competition between fans, players, patients and celebrities - is far more powerful.
"I can't even explain it, it's just so awesome, such a fun atmosphere," Preds winger Filip Forsberg said. "Kids are so excited to be here. Just the whole afternoon was spent laughing and enjoying each other's company."
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Lennon, who was diagnosed with very high risk, B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia back in January, was one of many patients in attendance who got to meet some of his favorite Predators players.
"My son has been handling it like a boss, I'm not going to lie," Kelly said. "He's been really strong, stronger than I think I would ever be, but we thank the Predators organization for helping him get through it all. Events like this make him so happy to be a fan."
The day after his fourth birthday, Lennon was selected as the honorary first bowler at the Preds & Pins Tournament. He kicked off the event by bowling his best ball, and was greeted by warm cheers from Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros, Dan Hamhuis, Dante Fabbro and Daniel Carr, alongside celebrities in attendance such as 2018 MLB American League MVP Mookie Betts, Comedian Dusty Slay and many more.
"This is just amazing," Kelly said. "I actually got to thank Pekka in person, which was really important to me. I've always wanted to do it, but never had the chance. I just said to him: 'Thank you for all you do, it means more than you could imagine.'"
It's not uncommon to find Rinne at the forefront of any event benefiting the 365 Fund. This event, however, is different; he appreciates the opportunity to bond with the children outside the hospital.
"Any of us involved with the 365 Fund are normally making visits to the hospital," Rinne said. "Here, it's a very different setting. It's a nice mix of our fan base, people from the Vanderbilt hospital, some of the former patients and more. I had the luxury to just walk through all the lanes and meet all the teams, take pictures with them, and it's clear that everybody just comes to a bowling event with a smile on their face."
It's become commonplace for the Preds to engage with the Smashville community and give back during the holiday season, despite the fact that it's midseason - and everyone, young and old, leaves the night with a warm feeling inside.
"This is my first year in the organization, but I think it's become super clear to me why the community loves the Preds so much," Preds forward Daniel Carr said. "These experiences, especially when they happen in the middle of the season, they really go a long way. It's just awesome the way we come together, and I'm super grateful for the way Peks runs this. Everyone is here for the children, and it builds so much camaraderie."