Nashville Inner City Ministry at Ford Ice Center:
The fear of stepping out alone onto a blank sheet of ice for the first time is quickly forgotten when a professional hockey player offers to take you up on his back for spin across the frozen surface. It didn’t take long for children from Nashville Inner City Ministry’s Day Camp to learn that truth.
Four Nashville Predators prospects jumped at the opportunity to give several dozen children their first taste of hockey at Ford Ice Center during the group’s community day on Thursday. The piggyback rides on ice were a naturally occurring bonus.
“The neat thing about today is that hockey is not a natural sport for our kids to try, so the Predators are giving them their first real taste of hockey ever,” Assistant to the President of Nashville Inner City Ministry Kenny Purvis said. “The biggest thing is them being here and getting a chance to skate with the players; that has made a huge impact. They didn’t know who these guys were and now they’re like rockstars to them. These kids love them.”
“When they haven’t been on the ice before, it can be kind of difficult,” Preds 2014 fifth-round selection Joonas Lyytinen explained. “But they have so much passion and are excited about it, that they’re eager to give it a try. They didn’t know me at all, but they kept asking me for help and it was great to show them how to skate. It was awesome to see the smiles on their faces and it makes me happy too.”
Currently attending his second Development Camp, forward Justin Kirkland understands the impact members of the Preds organization can have on bettering the community around them and introducing others to the coolest game on Earth in the process.
“We’re hoping to help these kids fall in love with the game and hopefully start an interest in hockey,” Kirkland said. “I hope we made a positive impact with them today and hopefully they’ll pursue the sport.”
For the 40 children, also including participants from Cottage Cove, who took to the ice alongside the Preds’ Kirkland, Lyytinen, Mikko Vainonen and Jimmy Vesey on Thursday, a brand-new sport moved to No. 1 on their lists, and more importantly, they made a memory that might just last a lifetime.
“The [children] will never forget this,” Purvis said. “They’re making memories right now that will have a big impact on the rest of their lives and these kids won’t forget this day anytime soon. They’re getting a chance to experience something that they might not have a chance to any other way.”
For more information on Nashville Inner City Ministry and the work they’ve done the last 35 years, click here.
- Thomas Willis
Pontus Aberg, Emil Pettersson, Evan Smith and Nick Saracino traded in their hockey sticks for paintbrushes on Thursday afternoon at the Renewal House in Nashville.
The prospects, along with members of the Preds front office, painted, cleaned and readied an apartment for a new family at the complex. A family-centered treatment facility, Renewal House offers services for mothers who are struggling with substance addiction and poverty, allowing their children to stay with them during the process and heal together.
“The Predators' efforts today help create a healing and welcoming environment for women and children who have known so much trauma and chaos,” Renewal House Development Director Jennifer Wheeler said. “The staff and prospects’ ability to paint and clean an apartment in a few hours saves us weeks of preparation time and allows us to move a family into the apartment sooner. It also does wonders for the spirit of our women.”
For Smith, who was just drafted by the Preds less than two weeks ago, the opportunity to give back to the Nashville community and become part of the Predators organization during Development Camp this week has proven to be a worthwhile experience.
“It’s been great to be out here, and it really shows you what it’s like to be a professional hockey player,” Smith said of painting at Renewal House. “It’s a great thing to know that you can give back as much as the fans can give to you.”
For more information on Renewal House, click here.
- Brooks Bratten
Martha O’Bryan Center:
Kevin Fiala, Jaynen Rissling, Max Gortz, Jimmy Oligny and Juuse Saros had a busy afternoon at the Martha O’Bryan Center in East Nashville – getting a firsthand look at the many programs the organization uses to help “empower children, youth and adults in poverty to transform their lives through work, education, employment and fellowship.”
After getting a tour of the Martha O’Bryan Center facilities, the five prospects moved to the gym where they spent time playing basketball and volleyball with elementary students that are a part of a six-week, summer day-camp program.
“We were playing in the gym with the smaller kids, and it was a lot of fun,” Fiala said. “They were so happy to play with somebody and happy to see us. It’s fun to see people happy.”
As the younger elementary students went for their afternoon naps, the prospects moved to spend time with older students as they ate lunch. During the lunch period, the prospects answered questions on a range of topics – from the sport of hockey and what it’s like to be a hockey player to what some of their favorite hobbies and things to do during the summer are.
The last stop of the day was helping the staff of Martha O’Bryan’s Food Bank pack and distribute food boxes for families. The organization, which distributes more than 1,000 boxes of food every month, is part of a network of food banks in Middle Tennessee that work with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, another Preds partner.
“The Nashville Predators have been a really great partner with the Martha O’Bryan Center for several years,” Martha O’Bryan Center Asst. Director of Development Jennifer Jackson said. “The opportunity for the prospects to come and interact with our children is great. It exposes the students to people they might not be able to meet, and they get to learn about different cultures and hockey, as well as see people investing in them and showing with their hearts that they actually care about our kids.”
For more information about the Martha O’Bryan Center and its programs, click here.
- Alexis Witman
Room In The Inn:
Teemu Kivihalme, Garrett Noonan, Zach Stepan and Kristian Naykva made a trip to Room In The Inn, a full-service homeless facility that helps individuals access programs that meet their emergency needs, supports them through transitional periods and lead them back toward self-sufficiency and long-term success.
The four Predators prospects helped set up and serve ice cream sundaes and lemonade to nearly 300 men and women, while also touring Room In The Inn’s facilities to discover all they have to offer.
For more information on Room In The Inn, click here.
- Kevin Wilson
Nashville Inner City Ministry:
Tyler Moy, Brandon Whitney, Alex Carrier and Trevor Murphy broke out the crayons and helped children at the Nashville Inner City Ministry develop their dream playground.
The two organizations also teamed up with KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging children to stay active. It focuses particularly on impoverished communities to create great places to play. Predators players helped the kids design the structure of their playground with one of the children’s ideas set to become a reality in their own backyard on October 29.
“It’s a really great way for them to connect and to see bigger people really stress that importance of play,” KaBOOM! Associate Project Manager Rachel Malkusak said. “One of the things that we see with the kids is they want to do the ‘cool’ thing and if they see these players getting excited about being active then they will be active.”
The Predators prospects saw the value and worth in a small, kind gesture, all while putting their drawing skills to the test.
“I’m very, very glad we got this opportunity,” Moy, a 2015 sixth-round draft pick said. “Being able to come here, it’s really rewarding and it’s something we can have fun with too. I enjoy drawing and enjoy just interacting with people and I think that’s a really rewarding experience.”
The day concluded with a blacktop hockey game with plenty of goals and celebration dances.
“The Nashville Predators being a part of kids lives, especially from an early age, they look up to us and say, ‘Oh, these guys are hockey players - I want to be just like them,’” Moy said. “To be a role model for people like that, it’s a really awesome experience.”
For more information on the Nashville Inner City Ministry and KaBoom! click here.
- Faith Krogulecki
YMCA Camp Widjiwagan:
Growing up, nothing is more exciting than getting to play a sport you love with the pros. A visit from Preds prospects Anthony Richard, Yakov Trenin, Matiss Kivlenieks and Janne Juvonen allowed the children of YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan to get just that chance.
A visit out to Antioch, Tenn., gave the young prospects a chance to interact with campers through the Nashville Predators’ Hockey Rules Summer Fest. Campers put their stickhandling skills to the test with drills and a relay race, then wrapped up the afternoon with a game of street hockey.
Although it may seem like just a straightforward afternoon, the prospects’ trip out to Camp Widjiwagan makes lasting memories for the campers.
“The kids look up to these players,” Camp Widjiwagan Development Director Julie Blucker said. “A lot of these kids have been to Nashville Predators games, and many of them play hockey, so to have the Predators come out today to them is really special. For some of these kids it’s the highlight of their summer.”
Although skills on the ice are a key focus of Development Camp, off-ice and community activities can be just as crucial to a player’s development. Forward Anthony Richard, a Preds fourth-round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, sees value in being out in the community.
“They’re great activities for the group, and especially our four guys,” Richard said. “Playing with the kids, it’s a great day and it's a great activity.”
Beyond the fun and getting to interact with the kids, Richard knows it’s crucial to be involved in the community.
“I did that all year long with my junior team, and it’s not a big market where I play, so I know it’s important for the Predators to be active in the community,” Richard said. “I’m happy to be here and give all of my best to the kids today.”
For more information on YMCA’s Camp Widjiwagan click here.
- Alex McGary