Sooner or later most hockey players will become familiar with needles. Errant pucks and high sticks, not to mention accidental or purposeful elbows or fists have all been known to open up cuts that require a trip to the training room for repairs. Quite frequently those repairs involve the player being on the receiving end of some stitches from their team’s medical staff. And even before the doctor gets his suturing needle ready, the player will likely receive an injection to numb the area to be sewn up as well.
Despite having a job that has the possibility of them going under the needle at any time, several Nashville Predators have made the choice to voluntarily subject themselves to repeated needle sticks in the form of the tattoos that adorn their body.
In recent years, the numbers of athletes displaying tattoos on their selected fields of play has increased. While their basketball and football playing brethren have more available real estate on which to display their body art, the uniforms and protective gear hockey players wear leave little skin exposed, so it may come as a surprise to some that close to half of the current Predators roster possesses at least one tattoo.
Their reasons for getting inked are varied, but like anyone else, the tatted up Preds have a story behind each of the works that adorn their bodies. As with a lot of people, family bonds have influenced the players in their decisions to get tattoos, some honor the sport they love, and others just like the way certain designs look.
A few years ago, Francis Bouillon
had a portrait of his twin sons Michael and Anthony tattooed on his shoulder.
“I wanted to do a tattoo, and when you do a tattoo you have to think about something you are going to keep because it is going to stay on you for the rest of your life,” Bouillon said. “You can never forget your kids. When our kids were young, we had a lot of good pictures, and I had their faces put on my shoulder.”
Cody Franson wanted something to represent a very successful year in his young hockey career.
In 2007, Franson was a member of the Team Canada squad that won the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Sweden. Later that year, Franson’s junior team, the Vancouver Giants, won the Memorial Cup as champions of the Canadian Hockey League.
A great deal of thought was put into the design of the tattoo that now appears on Franson’s leg. At first glance, it looks like the Hockey Canada logo, but upon closer inspection, the tattoo is much more detailed.
“It is the Hockey Canada symbol; on the one side it has the Memorial Cup on one side of the leaf and on the other side, it has the junior team logo,” Franson said. “In the middle, around the little player, it has the gold medal. It has both teams I played for that year, both trophies, and both numbers I wore for both teams.”
For players who have represented Canada in international competition, the Hockey Canada logo is a popular choice when it comes to tattoos.Ryan Suter
has represented the United States on numerous occasions, but when asked if he would consider getting the USA Hockey logo tattooed on his body like a couple of his Predators teammates from Canada have done with the Hockey Canada logo, the defenseman raised his voice loud enough for his teammates from north of the border to hear across the team’s locker room at Centennial Sportsplex.
“I don’t know why they do it,” Suter joked. “They are whacked, they really are.”
Joel Ward’s father suffered a stroke and died while watching a then 14-year-old Joel play a game. As he grew older, Ward made the decision to get a tattoo to memorialize the man that meant so much to him. In deciding what to get tattooed on him, Ward went with something that meant a lot to his father, a big rig.
“My father was pretty passionate about auto mechanics, and he worked on Mack trucks, so I thought I would pay tribute to my father with it,” Ward said. “It was a little memorial. I was a little nervous getting my first tattoo done, but it was definitely well worth it.”
When people see the tattoo on his arm, it gives Ward an opportunity to tell them his father’s story.
“Some people ask about it, and I can fill people in on what it symbolizes,” he said.
Like Ward, Nick Spaling
wanted to honor a deceased relative with his first tattoo. Spaling and his cousin Tyler were very close to one another growing up in Ontario.
“It’s my cousin’s initials,” Spaling said of the tattoo on his left arm. “He passed away five years ago now. It is his number two. We grew up together and played hockey together and stuff. It’s a good way to remember him and a good reason to get a tattoo.”
Wade Belak is far and away the leader in the Predators clubhouse when it comes to tattoos. While he estimates that he has “nine or ten” tattoos, a large part of his upper-body is covered.
“There are a lot of designs that I liked that I got,” Belak said. “The only meaningful one that I have is an angel on my arm, which is my wife and my kids’ names. I have a lot of angel-work, Michelangelo stuff, Rafael, and the cherub angels. I have a big tribal design down one arm, and the other ones I thought were just badass.”
While Belak has had his work done in many different places, a lot of it was done in South Florida at a tattoo studio called Mob Ink.
“The guy in Florida was great,” he said. “He actually has the chair that Al Capone used to get his hair cut in Chicago from, so it was actually pretty cool. He does a lot of celebrity work. A lot of music guys like Eminem and 50 Cent, so he is pretty busy and pretty well known. It was kind of like hanging out at Cheers. You go there and he has a couple of buddies that just hang out all day talk, eat fruit and get tattoos.”
Belak’s longest tattoo took eight and a half hours, and that was all in one sitting.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun,” he said.
For a guy whose job description involves the occasional punch to the face, even he is not immune to the pain that can be associated with getting tattooed.
“Probably the most painful was right under my armpit,” Belak said. “That got a little tender after a while, and that was only about three hours. The last hour was not good.”
Belak is even scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of tattoo magazine Rebel Ink.
Whatever reasons caused them to get their tattoos, they are all a more colorful bunch than first meets the eye.
Read Jim’s coverage of the Predators on a daily basis at http://exm.nr/nhlpredators.