Many of the children had never ice skated before. Many of them had also never seen so many packages piled high, wrapped up in silver and gold paper, all just for them.
The children who attended the party don’t always have it easy. But for one night, Christmas had truly come to town.
Mike Ribeiro was like them once. Raised with humble roots in Montreal, he may not have always had piles of presents under the tree, but he had hockey – and a dream.
Now playing center for the Nashville Predators in the best hockey league in the world, Ribeiro lives a good life. And he wants nothing more at Christmastime than to share that with the youth who remind him of what a little bit of joy can do.
“A lot of us are not as privileged as others, and it’s just nice to be able to help,” Ribeiro said. “Growing up for me was a little bit like those kids, so it’s just nice to give back.”
Ribeiro and his family hosted the Predators Charity Christmas Party for the second consecutive year, providing toys and fellowship for children and their parents, 19 families in all, from Lighthouse Christian, Nashville Inner City Ministry, Big Brothers Big Sisters or Kymari House.
Ribeiro, along with Preds forward Austin Watson, skated outdoors on the IntelliCentrics Rink at
Bridgestone Winter Park before heading inside Bridgestone Arena to the Lexus Lounge where a holiday meal, Santa Claus and piles of presents awaited.
“A lot of guys do charity work, but to see it firsthand and see what a great influence Mike and [his wife] Tammy and the whole family is, it’s incredible,” Watson said. “Around holiday time, especially just for Mike and his family to take time out of their schedule to come out and do a good thing for other people, it’s great to see.”
Todd Flowers, a minister with Nashville Inner City Ministry, was not only amazed with the amount of gifts, but also the kindness shown to his children throughout the evening.
“The kids had a blast outside; for most of them it was their first time putting skates on and they were doing OK with a little bit of help, but it was fun,” Flowers said. “Especially with the guys that were holding their hands and skating out there, that’s neat to see.”
The children may not have a favorite Preds player or know the difference between icing and offside, but they know that when the Predators are involved, they’re in for a treat.
“They just don’t get to do something like this very often,” Flowers said. “When I bring groups down to participate in hockey games, they don’t have a clue what’s going on, but they love the atmosphere and they love what they see here.”
That was true once more with the amount of holiday cheer the children received in both material and spiritual form, making all things merry and bright, with a little help from a man who was once like them.
“Just seeing the kids’ smiles on their faces,” Ribeiro said, “it’s priceless.”