On Saturday, October 26, the Predators, who took on Central Division opponent the St. Louis Blues, teamed up with the National Hockey League’s Hockey Fights Cancer initiative to raise money for Pediatric Cancer Research Fund at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. One hundred percent of the money that was collected over the course of the evening through blind auctions, silent auctions, change collection and texting campaigns will be donated to the fund.
Tristan Soto of Clarksville and CiCi Collins of Hermitage, who have both battled cancer, were just two of the kids from the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt that had the opportunity to take part in Saturday evening’s special festivities. In addition to Soto and Collins, several young patients rode the Zambonis during intermission, sat in the penalty box during warm-ups and stood with the anthem singer prior to the start of the game.
Behind-the-scenes at Bridgestone Arena early Saturday evening, as players prepared for the upcoming tilt, Soto, 10, was introduced to the “third team on the ice,” the NHL’s officiating crew. Soto’s opportunity to meet and greet with the officials was part of Zebra’s Care, a charity started by the National Hockey League Officials Association, which gives sick children the opportunity to meet NHLOA members and attend an NHL game.
As the nights officiating crew of Gord Dwyer, Dan O’Halloran, Brad Korachik and Don Henderson introduced themselves to Soto and his friends and family, they offered him handfuls of bubble gum, something they said officials are “always known for having.”
O’Halloran presented Soto with his very own black and white official sweater, complete with a No. 1 on the back and the orange arm bands signifying a referee.
“It’s the only ‘No. 1’ in the entire league,” O’Halloran said.
Soto, who said he was most excited about getting to sit in the penalty box during warm-ups after his visit with the officials, showed the crew the signs for “goal” and “slash” that he had learned on the way to take a few photos ringside.
The officials hoisted Soto on top of the net to pose for a few photos and stopped the Zamboni on its way off the ice for a few more.
“It’s great that we get to help give him a couple of hours to forget about his problems,” said Referee Gord Dwyer after meeting Soto. “It’s a good opportunity to see how fortunate we are, and how much we need to appreciate where we are.”
Another special guest was Collins, 11, a two-time cancer survivor, who was named “Mayor of Smashville” for the evening. As part of her title, Collins took part in several different special events, one of which was taking part in the ceremonial opening puck drop between Predators’ Captain Shea Weber and Blues’ Captain David Backes.
“I was nervous, but excited at the same time,” Collins said of taking to center ice as her cancer survival story, being read over the arena PA, gathered applause and a standing ovation from the all in attendance.
Following the puck drop, both Weber and Backes handed their sticks to Collins, a memento of a special evening.
“I feel lucky,” said Collins of her experiences as “Mayor of Smashville.” “Others that have cancer like me don’t get this opportunity. I’m lucky in ways that I can’t even really describe.”
Soto, Collins and the rest of the kids that had an opportunity to participate in some special aspect of Saturday’s game were given memories to last a lifetime. More than that, they served as an inspiration to everyone they met, reminding an arena full of people, from players to fans, to count the daily blessings in their lives.
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