There are good days and bad days for Kelly Givens.
Kelly, a Nashville Predators season-ticket holder, has been dealing with the bad as of late. Her husband, First Sergeant Stephen Givens, who was based out of Fort Campbell, passed away just weeks ago.
Stephen was in the First Battalion of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, and served multiple tours over his military career, including one in 2012 to Afghanistan along with his son Zachary, a Chinook helicopter crew chief. No matter the distance from Tennessee, Predators hockey was always on their minds.
So the Givens family purchased three seats for the upcoming season, one for Kelly, one for Zachary and a third for Stephen.
A plan was orchestrated, with some help from Zachary, to get the two from their home in Clarksville to Nashville and receive their tickets. When the two came to pick up their Smashville Passport and take a tour of Bridgestone Arena on Thursday afternoon, Kelly got quite a shock.
She didn’t think a look around the building, through the concourse and to their newly claimed seats, was out of the ordinary. But the tour didn’t stop there, continuing downstairs through the Lexus Lounge and to the hallway the Predators players take from the locker room to the ice before every game.
With Kelly as unsuspecting as ever, and Zachary in on the whole thing, mother and son, along with their ticket representative AJ Rockwell, arrived at the Preds locker room, which was locked. With Rockwell on the phone, attempting to get the guests access, the oversized, wooden door, emblazoned with the Predators logo, opened. Captain Shea Weber stood on the other side.
“When Shea Weber opened the door, I think I almost fainted,” Kelly said. “I absolutely never thought that would’ve happened to me. Ever.”
Weber then led Kelly and Zachary on a tour of the locker room and beyond, showing them the players’ home away from home. After signing a pair of Weber jerseys that Zachary had brought along, the Preds captain was presented with Sergeant Givens’ unit patch for Weber to now call his own.
“It’s always good to give back to people that give so much for us, especially the soldiers and their families,” Weber said. “It’s very meaningful and something that was a special day for both of us.”
Kelly expressed her feelings of uncertainty as to what she did to deserve such a surprise, but if anyone was deserving, it was her.
“We always feel so fortunate, but at the same time, for us, it’s always more about giving back more than we get,” Kelly said of her and her family’s feelings. “That’s why I guess I was a little confused because I didn’t know what I did to deserve it. And I still don’t, but whatever it is, it was worth it.”
Kelly, who grew up working in an ice rink and always had an interest in the sport, attended a Predators game with her family years ago for the first time. That’s all it took.
“It just happens; you go to one game and from there on out, you’re hooked,” Kelly said. “It’s just been like that for our family.”
That fandom continued, and once Zachary was deployed, Predators hockey was another way for Kelly to keep in touch with her son overseas, texting or sending messages via Facebook as games were going on. A goal or victory was never missed thousands of miles away.
The decision was made to keep coming to games, to view the sport that had helped to provide a sense of normalcy while father and son were serving their country.
That feeling may never fully return again, but the hockey will help. No doubt meeting the Preds captain played a role in doing so.
“It means more than you can imagine because it’s such a difficult time,” Kelly said. “My husband won’t be in his seat this year, so I think that this bit of joy was needed and so appreciated, more than you know.
“The timing couldn’t have been better for me. I’ve had a couple of really bad days here lately, but then this happens, and now I’m just on top of the world.”
It wasn’t anything extravagant. Some phone calls were made, plans were drawn up and the Preds captain donated his time, but for a family who has endured the toughest of times, the surprise, if only for a moment, erased the sorrow.
The bad days have outweighed the good lately. But Thursday was a good day.
“Hopefully this feeling will last for a while,” Kelly said. “That’s the plan.”