Every fall when members of the Nashville Predators return to the city for the start of training camp, they can expect to head out on the annual Community Day, a day where players spend time serving the community through various service projects at different local organizations. A few years ago, the Preds decided to institute a similar day with prospects when they come to Nashville for summer’s annual Prospect Development Camp.
“When the rookies are here in the summer we wanted to instill the notion that when they’re here in Nashville, being a part of the community is a very important thing,” Preds Director of Community Relations Rebecca King said. “All the rookies are out at different locations in the community, giving back and getting to know the community they may well play in someday.”
On July 10, all 32 of the prospects were split into seven groups and sent to different organizations throughout Nashville. While two groups visited with patients at local hospitals, a few played floor hockey and other games at summer camps, and some were presented with challenges outside of what they may normally find themselves doing – tasks like baking cookies and building furniture.
Garrett Noonan, a defenseman from Norfolk, Massachusetts, was part of the group that visited with kids at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital.
“It means a lot to the kids, you can see on their faces how much it means to them, us coming,” Noonan said. “But, seeing them happy like that, makes our day. Coming down here [to Nashville] is not just all about hockey, but getting out in the community and meeting people and getting a chance to spend some time with them.”
Prospects also visited the VA Hospital in Nashville, passing out calendars and preseason tickets while going from floor to floor talking with patients. Jimmy Vesey, a forward from North Reading, Massachusetts, was part of the VA Hospital team and understands the connection between opportunities like this and the organization.
“The Nashville Predators pride themselves, and their NHL players, in always being active in the community,” Vesey said. “I think that’s what they’re trying to instill in us, it’s really important to go out and just connect with the fans.”
Goaltender Marek Mazanec got to try his hand at another sports during the afternoon, bowling with kids from Youth Villages. Not only was it a great experience to spend time with the kids at the bowling alley, but Mazanec, who’s from Pisek, Czech Republic, was able to have the kids help with him a few things as well.
“It was an awesome group there and we saw how happy those kids are,” Mazanec said. “It’s a good experience for me, and I can improve my English with those kids, I really appreciated that.”
In addition to spending time with the kids from Youth Villages, prospects also got to know some local youth through a street hockey clinic at Camp Widjiwagan and dodge ball and kickball games at Lighthouse Christian School.
Swedes Filip Forsberg and Emil Pettersson were part of a crew that baked desserts for residents of Nashville’s Ronald McDonald House, with these two teammates taking on the challenge of making a tray of brownies from scratch.
At Tools for Schools, an organization that refurbishes furniture to be used in low-income schools and classrooms, a few of the prospects worked on sanding and painting desks and chairs.
“All the guys are involved and eager to participate,” King said. “While it may not be something that they have done before, they get to hang out together and do something with each other outside of the hockey rink.”
Prospect Development Camp is a week where young players can learn more about the organization and more about what it takes to be professional hockey players. From what to eat and the proper ways to exercise to new strategies on the ice aimed at making them better players, prospects are striving to become the best they possibly can be, and spending two hours serving the community fits right in.
“I think it’s good to build relationships with the community,” goaltender and 2011 second-round pick Magnus Hellberg said. “When you interact with the fans, it’s important, because they give so much to us. Without the fans, the game wouldn’t be as it is. It’s the fans that build the game and being able to come out to them, and work with them – for me – it’s awesome.”